The number one cause of tinnitus—constant ringing, whistling, humming or buzzing in your ears—is overexposure to loud noises. Our world has become a very noisy place, and it’s getting noisier all the time.
The whole question of exactly how tinnitus develops and progresses, and exactly what causes it, still is a mystery, but most of the time it’s associated with hearing loss or some kind of disease process in the ear. Experts agree, though, that protecting your hearing in noisy environments can go a long way toward preventing both hearing loss and the development of tinnitus.
Two groups of people are particularly at risk for developing hearing loss-related tinnitus: our military personnel, and musicians. At first those two groups may not seem to have anything in common, but both are routinely exposed to lots of loud sounds.
Military lifestyle is cause of Tinnitus
In fact, the number of veterans who receive service-related disability for tinnitus has increased 15 percent or more each year since 2005, bringing the total number of veterans who receive some kind of disability compensation for tinnitus to more than 744,000 as of early 2011. If this trend continues, more than 1.5 million veterans will be drawing disability for tinnitus by 2014.
With all the noise from munitions in the field, tinnitus is an increasing problem for our soldiers. It can have long term effects on their health and fitness because it can disrupt their sleep, affect their ability to think clearly, create stress in relationships, and limit their ability to hold a job. If all of these potential outcomes seem extreme to you, then chances are good you’ve never suffered from tinnitus. Head noise can be debilitating to the strongest of personalities, and can be a huge blow to a veteran who just wants to come home and resume a normal life.
Most military personnel develop tinnitus through exposure to very loud noise. Whether they’re on a ship or on the ground, today’s military may be exposed to loud noise levels during any part of their service. They may be exposed to takeoffs and landings on aircraft carriers, or to the explosions of IEDs. The common denominator, however, is overexposure to loud noise.
Musicians and music lovers risk Tinnitus
Whether you play music for a living or as a hobby, or just listen to loud music, you may be at risk for developing hearing loss and subsequent tinnitus. It also doesn’t matter what kind of music it is: it can be classical, jazz, heavy metal, Latin, or anything else. For many of us, music is an important part of our lives. We listen to it at all hours of the day and into the night, and sometimes what we listen to is too loud.
For musicians, the risk is even greater. Musicians may play, stand or sit near loud speakers and instruments. As a result, they may need custom hearing protection that protects their ears but still allows them to hear accurately the notes that are produced by their instruments.
More people at risk
Other, smaller segments of the population also are at risk. These parts of the population include but are not limited to forest industry personnel who work around equipment and in mills, heavy machinery operators, some construction personnel, shooting range operators, and any other group who routinely find themselves in very noisy situations.