Veterans, especially young ones, have much higher rate of hearing loss than non-vets

ATLANTA–Military veterans are about 30% more likely to have severe hearing impairment (SHI) than non-veterans of comparable age and current occupation, according to a study reported in the July 22 issue of the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report published by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), based in Atlanta.

Analyzing data from 2010 Annual Social and Economic Supplement to the Current Population Survey, CDC scientists found that veterans who served between September 2001 and March 2010, when American forces were engaged in wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, had rates of SHI four times as great as a comparable population of non-veterans.

The article states, “Improvements in military hearing conservation programs and increased emphasis on hearing loss surveillance in military and veterans’ health systems will be needed to reduce the prevalence of disability caused by hearing impairments among veterans.”

For the CDC report, data on 151,995 persons aged 17 years or older were analyzed to produce population-weighted estimates of SHI prevalence for the total population and for demographic and occupational subgroups by veteran status and period of most recent military service. A veteran status was defined as anyone who had ever served on active duty in the armed forces. SHI was identified based on self- or proxy report of being deaf or having “serious difficulty hearing.”

Among veterans in general, the incidence of hearing loss was 10.4%, with older vets much more likely to have the condition than younger ones. For example, of former service members aged 25 to 34, the rate was 2.0%; among those over age 65, the rate was 17.4%. Among non-vets in those two age groups, the portion with severe hearing loss was 0.5% for 25-34 years and 10% for over 65.

Among veterans who served after 2001, the rate of SHI was 0.8% among those aged 17-24, 2.8% for ages 25-34, 3.7% for ages 35-44, and 4.4% for those 45-54. Among non-veterans, the incidence of SHI was much lower in each of these four age groups: 0.4%, 0.5%, 1.0%, and 1.5%.

Among all veterans, the rate of SHI was 10.4%; among veterans who served after September 2001,  the prevalence was 3.9%. However, the men and women who served since 2001 were much younger than the other groups of veterans, who served primarily between America’s entry into World War II in 1941 and the withdrawal of American troops from Vietnam in 1973.

Among non-veterans, men and women reported similar prevalences of SHI (2.3% and 2.5%, respectively). Female veterans, however, had a significantly lower prevalence of SHI than male veterans (4.0% versus 10.9%; p<0.05), but a significantly higher prevalence than either male or female non-veterans.

The CDC findings were reported by Matthew R. Groenewold, PhD; Sangwoo Tak, ScD; and Elizabeth Masterson, MPH, all of the Division of Surveillance, Hazard Evaluations and Field Studies, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, CDC.