Hearing health and care: The need for improved hearing loss prevention and hearing conservation practices.

Hearing loss affects 31 million Americans, particularly veterans who were exposed to harmful levels of noise during military functions. Many veterans also receive treatment with ototoxic medications, which may exacerbate preexisting hearing loss. Thus, hearing loss is the most common and tinnitus the third most common service-connected disability among veterans. Poor implementation of hearing protection programs and a lack of audiometric testing during medical treatment leave veterans vulnerable to unrecognized and untreated hearing loss until speech communication is impaired. Individualized audiometric testing techniques, including assessment of high frequencies, can be used in clinical and occupational settings to detect early hearing loss. Antioxidants also may alleviate cochlear damage caused by noise and ototoxicity. Ultimately, hearing loss prevention requires education on reducing occupational and recreational noise exposure and counseling on the risks and options available to patients. Technological advances will improve monitoring, allow better noise engineering controls, and lead to more effective hearing protection.