Veterans

Katelyn and Solenne

By Timothy Higdon

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You know well what it means to live with hearing loss: It can be lonely, scary, or frustrating. It can make us struggle to access the things — and the people — we love the most.

I know these feelings, too. In the U.S. Army, I was exposed to equipment, demolitions and weaponry without wearing hearing protection, and today I live with a bilateral hearing loss.

I cannot thank our supporters enough for making critical hearing and balance research possible. Having only recently joined Hearing Health Foundation (HHF), I already this generosity and enthusiasm for better treatments and cures so inspirational.

Support from private individuals is especially critical given how government funding for hearing loss research is so low relative to its burden on Americans.

Sisters Katelyn, 12, and Solenne, 11, of Connecticut, are among the tens of millions of individuals who benefit from advances in hearing loss research. Both girls were born with severe to profound hearing loss but showed no benefit from hearing aids. They have both since received cochlear implants (CIs).

Their mother, Genevieve, is grateful that Katelyn and Solenne are able to attend a mainstream school and thrive. Katelyn plays lacrosse and violin, while Solenne plays basketball and sings in the school chorus. Both girls take sailing lessons in the summer.

But Genevieve and her husband, Brian, know well that more advancements in technology and medicine will benefit their daughters, other children, and adults. Because there are limitations to CIs and hearing aids, the long-term objective for HHF is to provide far better quality hearing discovered through research.

Please make a contribution today to bring us closer to permanent hearing loss cures. Your generosity can make possible more scientific discoveries we — our veterans, parents, our children, spouses, friends — urgently need. 


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Outsmarting the Most Common Military Injury: How One Veteran Is Helping Future Generations

By Imani Rodriguez

After 26 years of military service, Hearing Health Foundation (HHF) Board Chair Col. John Dillard (U.S. Army, Ret.) lives with tinnitus and noise-induced hearing loss. Tinnitus is one of the most prevalent war injuries among American veterans—and hearing loss is equally common—and Dillard is dedicated to improving the lives of millions through the advancement of tinnitus research that will lead to more reliable treatments and, eventually, permanent relief through cures. Tinnitus is the perception of ringing or buzzing in the ears without an external sound source.

In addition to supporting the advancement of more viable treatments and cures for tinnitus through HHF’s groundbreaking research, Dillard is a U.S. Department of Defense consumer reviewer for the Peer Review Medical Research Program (PRMRP), part of the U.S. government’s Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs. 

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After meeting qualifications through a rigorous annual application process, Dillard has been a tinnitus consumer reviewer for three years, a role he expects to continue. As a senior lecturer for systems acquisition management at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California, he is well connected with members of the military community, many who also live with tinnitus. He is a valuable contributor to discussions about tinnitus with scientists and the general public alike.

As a tinnitus consumer reviewer for the PRMRP, Dillard is responsible for evaluating and scoring tinnitus research proposals based on their potential for scientific and clinical impact. His academic experience as a military researcher has allowed him to assist with the critical thinking and reasoning aspects of each proposal. And from his own military experience, Dillard is keenly aware of how vital this research is for those returning from combat.

Tinnitus is a chronic condition without an existing reliable treatment, although certain products on the market claim otherwise. “There are no nutritional, pharmacological, surgical, deep brain or transdermal electrical stimulation, sound, transcranial magnetic, or other therapies proven efficacious for tinnitus,” Dillard says. “There are many treatments marketed to the naive consumer or patient/sufferer, but none of them are truly effective. Most folks who know me understand my extreme cautions against what I consider ‘snake oil’ treatments. People should spend no money on these products.”

Dillard says one exception using sound therapy is Tinnitus Retraining Therapy (TRT), currently considered the gold standard in coping with—but not eliminating or curing—disruptive levels of tinnitus. “I have personally benefited from TRT,” he says. TRT involves wearing ear-level devices that work to deliver masking noise to the brain, with or without hearing amplification; the therapy can typically be incorporated into hearing aids. 

Dillard is confident progress will continue to be made by both HHF and the Department of Defense. “We know now that tinnitus is more of a ‘brain problem’ that usually starts from damage to the ear in the form of noise-induced hearing loss,” he says. 

“We need to help the brain heal itself and correct what is actually an auditory ‘hallucination’ of hyperactive neuronal activity. It’s a very resilient, maladaptive feedback loop that works much like learned pain,” Dillard adds “We also hope for various pharmacological approaches being tried that can help tamp down this hyperactivity. I’m hopeful that we will see progress on treating tinnitus in our lifetimes.”

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Col. John Dillard (U.S. Army, Ret.) was appointed Chair of Hearing Health Foundation’s Board of Directors July 1, 2019, after joining the Board in February 2018. He wrote about his experience in the military and how it affected his hearing as the Fall 2017 Hearing Health cover story. HHF marketing and communications intern Imani Rodriguez studied communications and public relations at Rutgers University. 

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You Can Lead the Way

By Col. John Dillard, U.S. Army (Retired)

Folks like you are the reason Hearing Health Foundation (HHF) has just completed its 60th anniversary year of groundbreaking work toward better treatments and permanent cures for hearing loss and tinnitus. Your donations make it possible.

Tinnitus and hearing loss, respectively, are the number one and number two disabilities reported by returning American military personnel.

Tinnitus and hearing loss, respectively, are the number one and number two disabilities reported by returning American military personnel.

Thank you for everything you do.

Living with noise-induced hearing loss and tinnitus following 26 years of service in the U.S. Army, I strongly share your desire for more scientific developments — both to restore hearing and to prevent its loss.

Every person serving on our Board of Directors is also connected to a hearing disorder in some way and shares our passion for progress. It is coming. As each year passes we learn more and more about key processes in the brain and auditory system.

We’re grateful for these discoveries that bring us closer to hearing regeneration in adult mice (as human proxies for now), and toward new treatments for tinnitus, Ménière's disease, and related conditions. But we know more must be accomplished for all of us to enjoy a better quality of life.

Your generosity can make possible the discoveries we — our veterans, our parents, our children, our spouses, our friends — urgently need.

Please, if you are able, give today to HHF to fund more innovative scientists in 2019-2020 and accelerate much-needed treatments and cures.

HHF will direct 100% of your gift toward the program your choose — Hearing Restoration Project (HRP), Emerging Research Grants (ERG), Ménière's Disease Grants (MDG), or Education. Thank you for your consideration and for being part of our mission.

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Suffering After Sacrifice

By Lauren McGrath

Every Veterans Day, Hearing Health Foundation (HHF) celebrates the brave individuals who have served and sacrificed to defend our country. We are grateful to our active military members and veterans for their courageous protection of American values and freedoms.

As we honor those who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces, we acknowledge a tragic and troubling health problem. An astounding number of veterans—60% of those returning from Iraq and Afghanistan—live with tinnitus and noise-induced hearing loss. In 2017, the Veterans Administration reported 1.79 million disability compensation recipients for tinnitus and 1.16 million compensation recipients for hearing loss, the number one and two disabilities, respectively. In an HHF video about hearing loss treatment, Retired Army Colonel John Dilliard, Chair-Elect of HHF’s Board of Directors, explains, “The noise from repeated gunfire and high-frequency, high-performance aircraft engines takes its toll on the human hearing mechanisms.” Col. Dillard lives with both tinnitus and hearing loss following 26 years of service.

John Dillard and fellow soldiers, Fort Irwin National Training Center, 1977.

John Dillard and fellow soldiers, Fort Irwin National Training Center, 1977.

Dr. Bruce Douglas, 93, remembers the moment his hearing became severely compromised while serving in the Navy during the Korean War. “On what was my 26th birthday, after pulling the trigger on the M1 rifle with no protection (none of us had any) multiple times, I was left with tendonitis in both knees—and worse, permanent, chronic tinnitus due to acoustic trauma. My hearing went downhill ever after, and every imaginable kind of sound and sensation has resulted from my tinnitus,” Douglas writes in the Fall 2018 issue of Hearing Health.

Hearing protection training must start as soon as one enters the military. But there is a misconception that hearing protection inhibits vital communication and mission readiness because hearing signs of danger is imperative to survival. “Soldiers want to be able to hear the snap of the twig and want to be able to be situationally. As a result, they are often resistant to wearing hearing protection,” Col. Dillard says.

Fortunately, sophisticated hearing protection technology does exist so that military personnel do not have to choose between protecting their ears or their lives. Examples include noise-attenuating helmets, which use ear cups to protect against hazardous sound, and Tactical Communication and Protective Systems, which protect against loud noises while amplifying soft ones.

The U.S. military continues to work toward safer hearing in the service. The U.S. Army has developed the Tactical Communication and Protective System (TCAPS), which are earbuds that dampen dangerous noises to safe levels using microphones and noise-canceling technology, while also providing amplification of softer sounds and two-way communication systems. An initiative by the U.S. Air Force called Total Exposure Health (TEH), meanwhile, focuses on overall health both on and off the job, will measure cumulative noise exposure over the course of 24 hours. These developments and others, which HHF applauds, are covered in greater detail in Hearing Heath’s Fall 2017 issue.

As greater preventative technology for our military becomes available, HHF remains dedicated to finding better treatments and cures for tinnitus and hearing loss to benefit the lives of millions of Americans, including veterans, a disproportionately affected group. We hope you will join us in remembering their sacrifices with gratitude and compassion.

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One Person’s Lifelong Experience with Hearing Loss

By Dr. Bruce L. Douglas

I am a 93-year-old healthy adult with hearing loss. Many parts of my body don’t work perfectly right anymore, but my hearing loss is my biggest physical difficulty.

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When it comes to hearing loss, I’ve been there and done that. Despite the fact that I am legally deaf, I can hear. Why? Because I’ve stubbornly fought back every time a hearing pitfall appeared in my path.

The reason I can hear is because I refuse to give into my disability. I try out every kind of useful assistive hearing device I can lay my hands on or is given to me by my Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) audiologist. I’ve become a hearing loss activist and fight for coiling of public facilities whenever I have the chance to do so. And I recently had a cochlear implant installed about a year ago.

As a boy, I remember always taking a seat at the front of the room, when most other kids would vie for one in the back, so they could cheat on exams without being seen by the teacher. I didn’t realize how poor my hearing was until I was reprimanded for inconspicuously (I thought) using a nail clipper under my desk in my elementary school classroom. I had no idea because I couldn’t hear it!

I tried to come to terms with my hearing loss for many years. I refused to hide in corners of rooms and restaurants, and dealt with my problem largely by disclosing my hearing loss to people and asking for their cooperation in our verbal relationships. My early hearing aids only allowed me to hear sounds but not comprehend them, so I learned to lip read and stare at my companions, often to the point of distraction.  

I have presbycusis, I’m suffering from acoustic trauma from my time in the Korean War, I have sensorineural deprivation, and I’ve experienced every imaginable kind of sound and sensation in the form of tinnitus.

Call us what you will, but don’t ignore us; don’t make fun of us. Most importantly, respect us; and treat us as equals. Be patient with us and accept the reality that we have an invisible condition that wove its way into our nervous system, most often beyond our control, and we do all we can to listen to you and respond to the best of our ability.

Dr. Bruce Douglas is a Professor of Health and Aging at the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health. He is a participant in HHF’s Faces of Hearing Loss campaign.

Receive updates on life-changing hearing research and resources by subscribing to HHF's free quarterly magazine and e-newsletter.

 
 
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Let’s Make Noise Safer

By Vicky Chan

April 25 is International Noise Awareness Day, an annual, vital reminder to take a stand against noise exposure and to spread awareness about the underestimated threat of noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL). Seemingly harmless rhythms, roars, and blasts heard daily from music, trains, and machinery are, in fact, among the top offenders of NIHL.

Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) progressively occurs after chronic exposure to loud sounds. The frequency and intensity of the sound level, measured in decibels (dB), increases the risk of NIHL. Gradual hearing loss can result from prolonged contact with noise levels of 85 dB or greater, such as heavy city traffic. Noises of 110 dB or more, like construction (110 dB), an ambulance (120dB), or the pop of firecrackers (140-165 dB) can damage one’s hearing in a minute’s time.

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NIHL is the only type of hearing loss that is completely preventable, yet billions of individuals endanger themselves daily. Over 1.1 billion young adults ages 12 to 35—an age group that frequently uses headphones to listen to music—are at risk. Already, an estimated 12.5% of young people ages of 6 to 19 have hearing loss as a result of using earbuds or headphones at a high volume. A device playing at maximum volume (105 dB) is dangerous, so exposure to sounds at 100 dB for more than 15 minutes is highly discouraged.

Most major cities around the world have transit systems that put commuters in contact with sounds at 110 dB. BBC News found that London’s transit systems can get as loud as 110 dB, which is louder than a nearby helicopter taking off. The sound levels of some stations exceed the threshold for which occupational hearing protection is legally required. New York City has one of the largest and oldest subway systems in the world where 91% of commuters exceed the recommended levels of noise exposure annually. In a study on Toronto’s subway system, 20% of intermittent bursts of impulse noises were greater than 114 dB.

People who work in certain fields are more vulnerable to NIHL than others. Professional musicians, for instance, are almost four times as likely to develop NIHL than the general public. Military personnel, who are in extremely close proximity to gunfire and blasts, are more likely to return home from combat with hearing loss and/or tinnitus than any other type of injury. And airport ground staff are surrounded by high-frequency aircraft noises at 140 dB. In all of these professions, the hazard of NIHL can be significantly mitigated with hearing protection.

NIHL is permanent. Increased exposure to excess noise destroys the sensory cells in the inner ears (hair cells), which decreases hearing capacity and leads to hearing loss. Once damaged, the sensory cells cannot be restored. To find a solution, Hearing Health Foundation’s (HHF) Hearing Restoration Project (HRP) conducts groundbreaking research on inner ear hair cell regeneration in hopes of discovering a life-changing cure.

Nearly three-quarters of those who are exposed to loud noises rarely or never use hearing protection. It is our dream that someday, NIHL will be reversible as a result of the HRP. Until then, to make noise safer, HHF advises protection by remembering to Block, Walk, and Turn. Block out noises by wearing earplugs or protective earmuffs. Walk away or limit exposure to high-levels of noises. Turn down the volume of electronic devices.

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Hearing—With Difficulty Understanding: Life With Auditory Processing Disorder

By Lauren McGrath

This April, Hearing Health Foundation (HHF) draws your attention to Auditory Processing Disorder (APD), a condition that causes impairments in sound localization—the ability to identify sound sources—and has been closely linked to autism. April 4 is recognized as APD Awareness Day in some regions of the U.S. and April is Autism Awareness Month nationwide.

APD occurs when the central nervous system has difficulty processing verbal or auditory information, specifically in noisy, social environments. Individuals with APD do not necessarily have a diagnosed hearing loss; in fact, many have normal audiogram results. With APD and typical hearing, the inner ear properly sends signals to the brain, but, once received, the brain fails to interpret and analyze these sounds accurately, resulting in jumbled messages.

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In the U.S., it is estimated five percent of school-age children, or 2.5 million children, have APD. Individuals with APD are often unable to hear sounds as words and have learning problems, including difficulty in reading, spelling, and language comprehension. It is vital to review the symptoms, demographics, and treatments of APD, should you suspect it in yourself or a loved one.

Individuals with APD have trouble distinguishing between words or syllables that sound alike (auditory discrimination) and recalling what they heard (poor auditory memory). They show delayed responses to verbal requests and instructions and will often ask someone to repeat what has been said. APD is commonly misdiagnosed as ADD/ADHD, dyslexia, or hearing loss.

Demographically, APD is a common secondary diagnosis for children with autism; most children diagnosed with autism have auditory processing disorders or auditory difficulties. HHF Emerging Research Grants (ERG) recipient Elizabeth McCullagh, Ph.D.’s 2017 published work in The Journal of Comparative Neurology examines the strong connection between Fragile X Syndrome (FXS), the most common genetic form of autism, and difficulties with sound localization.

Additionally, APD is prevalent in individuals with neurological problems, including those who have experienced head injuries or strokes. Older adults, who are more susceptible to some cognitive decline, are also at greater risk for APD.

Military veterans who have been repeatedly exposed to blasts are another community disproportionately affected by APD. An estimated 15% of all returning military personnel live with APD. HHF’s ERG recipient Edward Bartlett, Ph.D., explains that the changes to the central auditory system may account for the behavioral issues that veterans experience, such as problems with memory, learning, communication, and emotional regulation.

Retired U.S. Army Colonel John Dillard of HHF’s Board of Directors remarks, “It is truly unfortunate that our veterans, after making such honorable sacrifices, are forced to live with APD, often alongside tinnitus and/or hearing loss. I am hopeful that future scientific advancements will better the lives of veterans and all Americans.”

There are no cures for APD, but there are many treatments that aim to improve the effectiveness of everyday communication. These include environmental modifications, addressing functional deficits, and improving listening and spoken language comprehension. Pursuing treatment for APD as early as possible is imperative, McCullagh explains, because hearing is vital to social and educational interactions. “Those with APD often develop issues with language development, hearing in noise, and sound localization. Risks associated include not being able to participate in noisy environments which can often result in depression and anxiety.”

Much more research of APD is needed to improve the accuracy of methodologies for diagnosis and to determine the best interventions for each child or adult. Even though there are available strategies to treat APD, researchers, including those funded by HHF, largely through the generosity of the Royal Arch Masons Research Assistance, are hard at work finding alternative treatments that will improve the lives of those with APD.

We need your help supporting innovative hearing and balance science through our Emerging Research Grants program. Please make a contribution today.

 
 
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HHF Welcomes John Dillard, Retired U.S. Army Colonel, to Board of Directors

By Nadine Dehgan

Hearing Health Foundation (HHF) recently welcomed COL John T. Dillard, USA (Ret) to its  Board of Directors. A Cold War Veteran, COL Dillard lives with tinnitus and hearing loss—the two most common war injuries—as a result of repeated exposure to gunfire and blasts.

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COL Dillard is currently a Senior Lecturer for Systems Acquisition Management at the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) in Monterey, California, where he has been employed since his retirement from the U.S. Army in 2000. His curricula focus on system developments to advance technology and warfighting capabilities. At the NPS, COL Dillard also counsels young military officers as they cope with the effects of tinnitus including sleep, concentration, and mood issues.

Previously, COL Dillard held positions as an instructor at the U.S. Army War College and an adjunct professor at the University of California at Santa Cruz. In the latter, he educated Silicon Valley public and private industry professionals in Project Management. The full-text versions of his own many written works on managing technology efforts are available on ResearchGate.

In addition to his present role at the NPS, COL Dillard is a Defense Department Consumer Reviewer for the annual Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program for scientific proposals in the areas of tinnitus and noise-induced hearing loss research. COL Dillard says that he "hopes to contribute in a tangible way to HHF’s drive to restore hearing for countless people affected by its loss."

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You Can Change Lives

By Nadine Dehgan

On behalf of folks like John—Thank you for your continued support of Hearing Health Foundation (HHF), the largest U.S. nonprofit funder of hearing loss and tinnitus research in America.

We are dedicated to discovering better treatments and permanent cures.

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John—a Retired U.S. Army Colonel—served during the Cold War. Constant exposure to gunfire and high-pitched helicopter engines took a toll on his hearing. He was diagnosed with tinnitus and hearing loss in 1996. His diagnosis fueled his desire to improve the lives of active duty personnel and veterans since.

Tragically, John's circumstances are not unique. Tinnitus is the most common physical ailment for returning military personnel, followed by hearing loss. 60% of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans suffer from one or both of these conditions.

Many Veterans, even those who pass their hearing test, have trouble understanding speech. This condition, known as auditory processing disorder, is often caused by blast exposure.

Today John teaches at the Naval Postgraduate school where he often counsels young military officers as they cope with their tinnitus, as tinnitus can cause significant sleep, concentration, and mood issues.

Can you help bring us closer to better treatments and cures for tinnitus for John and the 65 million other Americans with tinnitus, many of whom are also veterans? 

PLEASE, IF YOU ARE ABLE, GIVE TO HHF TODAY. 100% OF YOUR GENEROUS GIFT WILL BE DIRECTED TO THE AREA OF YOUR DESIGNATION. 

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A Tribute to Our Nation’s Veterans

By Laura Friedman

Each year on Veterans Day, November 11, we proudly honor the men and women who have bravely served our country and fought to protect our freedoms.

Veterans Day is important because it honors our soldiers and it is a time to raise awareness about their experiences on and off the battlefield. Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) and tinnitus (ringing in the ears) are the top two health conditions among military veterans, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). By the end of fiscal year 2016 over 1 million veterans received disability compensation as a result of hearing loss, and about 1.6 million received compensation for tinnitus.

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In addition to being disproportionately affected by hearing loss and tinnitus, our soldiers and veterans are also more susceptible to developing central auditory processing disorders (CAPD). CAPD occurs when one can hear sounds but is unable to understand the words. It is sometimes caused by intense exposure to sudden and loud noises from improvised explosive devices (IEDs), ammunition and engine noise.

"Both post-blast trauma and CAPD are difficult, diffuse disorders where more work is needed, particularly on people working in extreme conditions, acoustic and otherwise, such as veterans." —Edward Bartlett, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Biological Sciences and Biomedical Engineering Purdue University

Blasts can result in temporary hearing loss and put military personnel at risk. However, the word “temporary” should be approached with caution: Repeated short-term hearing loss can damage the sensitive hair cells in the inner ear, leading to permanent hearing loss.

Hearing loss and tinnitus as a result of noise is largely preventable. There’s a misconception that not using hearing protection would inhibit vital communication and mission readiness. With today’s increasingly sophisticated technology, soldiers no longer need to choose between protecting their ears or their lives. Wearing hearing protection such as noise-attenuating helmets, which use ear cups to protect against hazardous sound, or Tactical Communication and Protective Systems, which protect against loud noises while amplifying soft ones, can go a long way to reduce overall exposure, while ensuring vital communications.

Any form of hearing loss can be detrimental to soldiers on duty, as the ability to hear signs of danger and to communicate with fellow soldiers is crucial for mission success and survival. Off-duty, hearing loss and tinnitus can also impact one’s well-being.

Regardless of age, type of hearing loss, or cause, if left untreated or undetected hearing loss can lead to considerable, negative social, psychological, cognitive, and health effects. As a result, it can seriously impact professional and personal life, potentially leading to isolation and depression. Treating hearing loss can also decrease one’s risk of acquiring other serious medical conditions, such as cardiovascular disease, dementia, and diabetes.

Veterans who have acquired hearing loss and tinnitus, either as a result of war or through other causes, can seek treatment at their local Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) medical center. Through partnerships with local community providers, the VA offers comprehensive hearing health services including screening, evaluation, treatment, and/or management of hearing, tinnitus, and balance disorders.

While it may be daunting to take the initial step of having a hearing test, it is important to know there are many different treatment options available. Some forms of hearing loss, such as those that affect the middle ear, are treatable through surgery. Damage to the inner ear and auditory nerve can cause permanent hearing loss; however technologies such as hearing aids, assistive/alerting devices, TV and telephone amplifiers, and cochlear and other auditory implants can optimize residual hearing by amplifying sounds.

As for tinnitus treatments, many patients have seen improvements with counseling and sound therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), and the use of white-noise machines. Be sure to discuss the cause of your hearing loss and tinnitus and various treatment options with your audiologist or ear, nose, and throat specialist (ENT).

“On this and every Veterans Day, HHF sincerely thanks our military and our veterans for their brave service and sacrifice. I would also encourage all members, past and present, to have their hearing tested and monitored by a hearing health professional on a regular basis.” —Nadine Dehgan, CEO, Hearing Health Foundation.

Please visit va.gov/directory/guide to find your local VA medical facility. Please also see our Fall 2017 issue of Hearing Health magazine, whose theme is Veterans & Seniors, available at hhf.org/magazine.

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