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Did ww2 soldiers get tinnitus?

Tinnitus, or ringing in the ears, is a common condition that affects many people, including World War 2 soldiers. There are several reasons why WW2 soldiers may have developed tinnitus during or after serving in the war.

Noise exposure

One of the main causes of tinnitus is prolonged exposure to loud noises. The sounds of war – explosions, gunfire, engines, etc – often exceeded safe noise levels. Acoustic trauma from loud noises can damage the delicate inner ear structures that allow us to hear, leading to hearing loss and tinnitus.

Soldiers were often exposed to loud noises for extended periods without adequate hearing protection. Ear plugs were not commonly issued or used in WW2. The constant bombardment of excessively loud noise put soldiers at high risk of developing tinnitus during their service.

Artillery and explosives

Working with artillery and explosives frequently exposed WW2 soldiers to sudden loud blasts and repeated concussive noise trauma. The repeated blasts from cannons and other heavy weapons contributed significant noise damage for soldiers regularly around these armaments. The firepower utilized in WW2 was immense, with millions of tons of explosives deployed over the course of the war.

Aircraft and engines

Aircraft engines produced tremendous noise, especially the powerful piston-driven propeller airplanes commonly used in WW2. Ground crew and pilots were subjected to the deafening whine of aircraft engines for long periods. The enclosed quarters of airplane cockpits meant damaging noise was inescapable for aviators. Tanks, naval engines, and other motorized equipment also produced harmful noise levels for soldiers operating or traveling with them.

Ear infections and injuries

Ear infections and injuries suffered during service may also have led to tinnitus for WW2 soldiers. Risk factors included:

  • Lack of access to medical care
  • Unsanitary conditions
  • Extreme weather exposure
  • Head and ear trauma from explosions or accidents

Chronic ear infections and damage to the eardrum or ossicles can cause persistent tinnitus. Battlefield medicine was limited in its ability to prevent and treat such conditions.

Stress and trauma

The mental strain of combat and war trauma has also been linked to tinnitus onset. Stress is known to exacerbate tinnitus symptoms. The extreme duress and psychological trauma experienced by many WW2 soldiers may have contributed to their development of tinnitus:

  • Constant state of anxiety in combat zones
  • Fatigue and sleep deprivation
  • Grief and survival guilt
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

High stress levels sustained over months and years of combat can aggravate tinnitus symptoms. The mental health impacts of WW2 took a heavy toll on many soldiers.

Medications and treatments

Certain therapeutic drugs and medical treatments given during WW2 also may have led to tinnitus as a side effect. These include:

  • Quinine drugs used to treat malaria
  • High doses of aspirin and analgesics
  • Sulfonamide antibiotics
  • Chemotherapy agents like nitrogen mustards
  • Head and neck radiation therapy

Quinine, in particular, was widely given to troops in the Pacific theater to combat malaria. Unfortunately, it is strongly associated with causing temporary or permanent tinnitus.

Prevalence of tinnitus among WW2 veterans

It is difficult to estimate precisely how many WW2 veterans developed tinnitus during or after their service. Surveys have given us some clues:

  • A 1946 study of WW2 soldiers found that 37% reported having tinnitus, suggesting it was quite common.
  • In a 2009 survey, 86% of WW2 veterans reported having tinnitus and hearing loss.
  • A 2021 study of elderly U.S. veterans found a 52% prevalence of tinnitus in the WW2 veterans subgroup.

While the methodologies differ, these surveys consistently indicate tinnitus affected a substantial proportion of WW2 veterans – likely over a third and perhaps a majority in many units.

Tinnitus disability claims by WW2 veterans

The number of WW2 veterans receiving government disability payments for tinnitus-related impairment provides another perspective on its prevalence. Statistics from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs show:

  • As of 2020, there were still 38,588 WW2 veterans receiving disability compensation for tinnitus from the VA.
  • This number has declined from 86,229 in 2010 as the population of WW2 veterans dwindles due to age.
  • In 2010, tinnitus was the #1 service-connected disability for WW2 veterans.

The substantial number of tinnitus claims reflects that hearing damage was pervasive among WW2 soldiers despite less noisy warfare than recent conflicts. Many veterans continue coping with chronic tinnitus into their 90s and beyond.

Changing attitudes toward hearing protection

Awareness of noise-induced hearing loss increased toward the later stages of WW2 and afterward:

  • In 1943, the U.S. Army published a technical bulletin formally identifying noise as a medical issue.
  • Hearing conservation programs slowly expanded through the 1950s and 1960s.
  • The first regulation on hearing protection in the U.S. military came in 1957.
  • In the late 1960s, the Army began actively enforcing use of hearing protection.

These measures came too late to prevent hearing damage for most WW2 veterans. But they signify growing recognition that hearing loss and tinnitus warranted more preventative action for soldiers’ health.

Modern military hearing loss efforts

The U.S. military now has extensive noise mitigation policies to minimize hearing loss and tinnitus in active-duty personnel:

  • Mandatory use of hearing protection devices in loud environments
  • Monitoring noise exposure levels of equipment and operations
  • Baseline and annual hearing tests for all service members
  • Hearing protection fitting and training
  • Tinnitus screening and treatment options

Thanks to these measures, hearing injuries have declined significantly from WW2 levels though remain an occupational hazard. Tinnitus still affects many modern veterans, but likely not to the same degree as those who served in WW2 experienced.


The hazardous noise levels encountered by World War 2 soldiers, combined with limited hearing protection, meant that tinnitus was a very common affliction both during and after the war. Though precise statistics are difficult to verify, surveys of WW2 veterans consistently indicate that a substantial percentage, likely over a third, developed chronic tinnitus linked to their military service. Tinnitus remains a persistent medical disability for tens of thousands of remaining WW2 veterans today. While armed forces now take extensive precautions around noise, hearing loss and tinnitus continue to accompany many soldiers home from war.