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Veterans With Traumatic Brain Injuries, PTSD, More Vulnerable To Tinnitus: Study

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Veterans who have suffered traumatic brain injuries (TBI) or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may be at higher risk for developing a hearing problem known as tinnitus, which manifests as a persistent ringing in the ears, according to new research.

In a study published last month in the medical journal Military Medicine, researchers from the University of California San Diego report that past head trauma and PTSD appeared to increase the risk of tinnitus for U.S. Marines who had been deployed to a combat zone.

Tinnitus is the leading disability among U.S. military veterans, with nearly 1.5 million veterans currently receiving disability for the condition, impacting about one-in-10 of all American adults. It can cause a ringing or hissing sound in the ears or head.

Tinnitis is categorized as either subjective, where the noise is only present in the person’s head, or objective, when a sound like clicks or crackling can be heard inside the person’s ear. There is no cure in most cases.

In this latest study, researchers looked at data on 2,600 U.S. Marines who were assessed before and after a combat deployment.

According to the findings, after a combat deployment, Marines who had partial PTSD diagnosis were more than twice as likely to develop tinnitus, and a traumatic brain injury diagnosis increased the risk of tinnitus by 59%. The risk of tinnitus more than doubled if the head trauma was caused by what is known as blast TBI; head injuries caused by an explosion.

Both low and high frequency hearing loss also appeared to be linked to an increased risk of tinnitus, the researchers found.

“Screening for pre-existing or individual symptoms of PTSD, TBI, and hearing loss may allow for more focused treatment programs of comorbid disorders,” the researchers concluded. “Identification of those personnel vulnerable to tinnitus or its progression may direct increased acoustic protection for those at risk.”

Military Earplugs Problems

These findings come amid increased concerns about problems with military earplugs distributed to nearly all service members between 2003 and 2015, which have been linked to reports of tinnitus and hearing loss due to design defects, which caused the earplugs to loosen in the ear canal.

The 3M Combat Arms Earplugs, Version 2 (CAEv2), were reversible and designed to serve as traditional earplugs when inserted one way, but the manufacturer indicated that they provided filtered noise reduction when reversed, blocking loud battlefield noises, while allowing the wearer to hear spoken commands.

According to allegations raised in a growing number of 3M Combat Arms Earplug lawsuits, the manufacturers knew for years that the earplugs were defective, and too short to properly fit in the ear. As a result, military service members were allegedly left without adequate hearing protection, after the earplugs failed to seal the ear canal.

In July 2018, 3M reached a $9.1 million settlement over the Combat Arms earplug problems with the Department of Justice, resolving claims that it defrauded the government by knowingly selling the defective earplugs, and then by causing soldiers to suffer hearing loss whose health issues have to be addressed by the government.

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