According to the National Institutes of Health, approximately 36 million American adults report hearing loss and between 6 and 8 million people have some form of language impairment. Service Members and veterans are at a greater risk of hearing injury than the general public.
The Veterans Benefits Administration reports that tinnitus and hearing loss are the top two service-connected disabilities for U.S. military Veterans and tinnitus is the most common service-related disability among OEF/OIF/OND Veterans.
May is National Better Speech and Hearing Month and a time to recognize the effect of hearing loss and speech disorders on individual wellness.
During the month of May, Army Medicine is taking steps to increase awareness about hearing and communication disorders; including prevention, diagnoses, and state-of-the-art treatment.
The military first introduced audiology care as it resulted from the need to rehabilitate troops with hearing loss who returned from World Wars I and II.
"As Better Hearing and Speech Month is recognized nationally during the month of May, it is important to note the role the military played in the origin and evolution of the audiology and speech-language pathology professions," said Lt. Col. Kristen Casto, audiology staff officer for the Office the Army Surgeon General.
"The genesis of both specialties resulted from the collaborative efforts to rehabilitate troops returning from World Wars I and II with hearing loss, and resultant communication disorders."
Strategies for the prevention, identification, and rehabilitation of hearing loss and communication disorders have evolved since WWII and the Department of Defense has robust prevention and treatment programs to maximize service member hearing readiness and beneficiary hearing health.
Current auditory research initiatives are advancing the ability to predict auditory performance in operational environments, to maximize the function of advanced hearing protection and communication devices, and pharmacological strategies for preventing hearing loss. Defense Health Agency speech-language pathology research focuses on the mitigation of swallowing, voice, and language disorders.
Studies are also being conducted to identify early indicators of hearing loss, so that measures to prevent hearing loss and tinnitus can be implemented early.
Auditory injury is an invisible condition that is often viewed as an unavoidable, acceptable consequence of military service, but service-related hearing loss is largely preventable. Most hearing protection, if worn properly during noise-hazardous conditions, is effective in preventing hearing loss.
Off-duty noise exposure can cause hearing loss as well including loud music, motorcycles, lawn mowers, and power tools can cause permanent hearing loss.