U.S soldiers inspect a vehicle after it was hit by an explosion in eastern Afghanistan on Tuesday. Roadside bombs have been a significant source of hearing impairment for Americans serving in Afghanistan and Iraq.
U.S soldiers inspect a vehicle after it was hit by an explosion in eastern Afghanistan on Tuesday. Roadside bombs have been a significant source of hearing impairment for Americans serving in Afghanistan and Iraq. Rafiq Maqbool/AP
Gigi Douban reports on All Things Considered tonight that tinnitus is the most common service-related disability among veterans who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
At least 639,000 veterans are suffering from this hearing disorder, which Desert Storm veteran Janet Parker describes this way:
"The only way you can describe it is how the sound of the cricket is when it rubs its legs together. Just picture that at a thousand times that one cricket, and that's a thousand each ear. So you've got the noise coming into both ears, this high-pitched tone."
The ringing can be set off by all kinds of commonplace noises: dogs barking, dishes clanking, doors slamming.
There are treatments, but no cure, according to Douban. The type of treatment used depends on the severity of the condition. Some patients suffer debilitating levels of ringing in their ears, while others experience it as a minor nuisance.
Audiologist Florence Cuneo with the VA facility in Birmingham, Alabama, tells Douban that one approach called Progressive Tinnitus Management offers a spectrum of responses, from simple counseling to the use of in-ear devices that generate white noise.
The American Tinnitus Association estimates that the government spends about $1 billion each year on this disability, more than double the cost in 2005.
The Defense Department is responding to the rising number of tinnitus cases with a new earplug designed to protect hearing from loud noises while letting in the sound everyday noises.