Co-occurrence of hearing loss and posttraumatic stress disorder among injured military personnel: A retrospective study

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Background: Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and hearing loss are hallmark public health issues related to military service in Iraq and Afghanistan. Although both are significant individual contributors to disability among veterans, their co-occurrence has not been specifically explored. Methods: A total of 1179 male U.S. military personnel who sustained an injury between 2004 and 2012 during operations in Iraq or Afghanistan were identified from clinical records. Pre- and postinjury audiometric data were used to define new-onset hearing loss, which was categorized as unilateral or bilateral. Diagnosed PTSD was abstracted from electronic medical records. Logistic regression analysis examined the relationship between hearing loss and PTSD, while adjusting for age, year of injury, occupation, injury severity, injury mechanism, and presence of concussion. Results: The majority of the study sample were aged 18-25 years (79.9%) and sustained mild-moderate injuries (94.6%). New-onset hearing loss was present in 14.4% of casualties (10.3% unilateral, 4.1% bilateral). Rates of diagnosed PTSD were 9.1, 13.9, and 29.2% for those with no hearing loss, unilateral hearing loss, and bilateral hearing loss, respectively. After adjusting for covariates, those with bilateral hearing loss had nearly three-times higher odds of PTSD (odds ratio = 2.92; 95% CI, 1.47-5.81) compared to those with no hearing loss. Unilateral hearing loss was not associated with PTSD. Conclusions: Both PTSD and hearing loss are frequent consequences of modern warfare that adversely affect the overall health of the military. Bilateral, but not unilateral, hearing loss was associated with a greater burden of PTSD. This has implications for warfighter rehabilitation and should encourage collaboration between audiology and mental health professionals.

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MacGregor, A. J., Joseph, A. R., Walker, G. J., & Dougherty, A. L. (2020). Co-occurrence of hearing loss and posttraumatic stress disorder among injured military personnel: A retrospective study. BMC Public Health, 20(1).

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