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What's that ringing in my ears?

Tinnitus is the most common service-connected disability. Don’t let it get you down.

It could be a blast from an IED. Long hours of rifle fire. Or even a long deployment in and around noisy heavy equipment. Any of these scenarios can result in tinnitus — that nonstop ringing, buzzing, or roaring in your ears that only you can hear. It’s the single most prevalent service-connected disability among veterans, according to the Department of Defense, with hearing loss itself running a close second.

Military service is a noisy occupation. And even with an active DOD campaign to prevent hearing damage in daily operations, you don’t always have the opportunity to protect your hearing the way you should. As a result, nearly a million veterans suffer from this stress-inducing, sleep-robbing disability.

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It’s not just the noise. It’s the side effects.

Just because it’s the most common disability, doesn’t mean you should ignore it. Untreated, tinnitus can be just as debilitating as hearing loss itself. It diminishes your quality of life. Tinnitus robs you of silence and makes it difficult to sleep, concentrate or relax and it can exclude you from social and professional situations. 

And without treatment, hearing damage gets worse as you age. Progressive hearing loss is linked to anxiety, depression, heart disease, impaired cognitive function, impaired memory and feelings of isolation. Hearing loss and tinnitus are often related, maybe even sharing the same cause. Even mild tinnitus is more than an annoyance: it can be a warning sign of debilitating hearing damage.


Gain control, find relief

Yet many veterans and active duty service men and women tend to shrug it off. As irritating as tinnitus is, they tend to doubt that it’s “real,” because its symptoms are internal. The anxiety, confusion and isolation that come with not understanding the nature of tinnitus can be as debilitating as the condition itself. 

The first step to dealing with tinnitus is understanding that it is real, that it’s treatable, and that getting the treatment you need is vital for your mental health as well as your hearing health.

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What causes tinnitus?

The most common cause of tinnitus is an inner ear disorder, typically caused by noise exposure, aging, inner ear infection, or a condition called Meniere’s disease. With veterans and active duty service men and women, the overwhelmingly common cause is noise exposure. 

Other causes may include outer or middle ear disorders, perforated eardrums, allergies, medications, trauma, or systemic disorders such as low blood pressure and diabetes.


What you can do for relief

Hearing loss and tinnitus are often interrelated. A hearing evaluation from an audiologist can detect any hearing loss that should be addressed. An ear, nose and throat physician (ENT) can identify problems that can be treated medically.

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Treating tinnitus and hearing loss together

The most effective way to deal with tinnitus is by treating the symptoms directly. If you also have a hearing loss, hearing instruments often help to reduce the perception of tinnitus and also improve your ability to hear and communicate. Most tinnitus patients with hearing loss experience total or partial tinnitus relief while wearing hearing instruments. There are many variables that determine success. However, hearing instruments may bring back in the ambient sounds that naturally cover the tinnitus. 

The right kind of hearing instruments, such as Oticon instruments, can be finely tuned to match your unique hearing profile and personal sound preferences. Then they deliver sound with the clearest, purest signal possible in the way your brain is best able to understand it. The result is a more natural, effortless listening experience that reduces the fatigue that comes from straining to hear, and can often help mask tinnitus by bringing back ambient sound. Lighter than ever; they come in fashion colors if you’re inclined to show them off, or completely invisible if you’re not. They do far more than amplify sound: they use cutting-edge digital audio processing to help you pull clear, natural, understandable speech out of noisy, complex and interruptive environments. Millions of people find them an indispensable tool for regaining control and living the life the want to live — not the life imposed on them by hearing loss.

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Other therapies 

Hearing instruments are often the first step, and can reduce the effects of tinnitus, but they aren’t the only therapy. Symptoms that can’t be alleviated by hearing instruments can be addressed through sound therapy, counseling and management therapies, stress management, and other techniques. 

It’s also important to get help with the potentially debilitating impact that tinnitus has on your life. People who suffer from severe tinnitus can also suffer from depression, stress, anxiety, and fatigue. These issues can form a vicious circle of symptoms with each one making the others worse. If you experience anxiety, depression or sleep problems, along with tinnitus, then seek help from a qualified therapist. Effective management of these conditions can help you feel better and reduce the severity of your tinnitus.

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After all you’ve done … 

You’ve sacrificed much to serve your country. You don’t have to sacrifice the quality of your hearing as well. As part of your VHA medical services, you may be eligible for a hearing exam, for tinnitus and hearing loss. You may also be eligible for the fitting of hearing instruments prescribed by a hearing care professional. Oticon hearing instruments with BrainHearing™ technology and Tinnitus SoundSupport™ may be the solution for you. 

If hearing instruments are prescribed for you, ask your provider if Oticon is the right instrument for you. All you have to do is ask for Oticon by name. 

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