The men and women who serve our country in uniform too frequently suffer incapacitating physical, mental, and emotional difficulties after their service is finished. Within the continuing dialogue concerning veteran’s healthcare, the most commonly diagnosed disability is often relatively neglected: Hearing loss and tinnitus.
Veterans are 30% more likely than civilians to deal with severe hearing impairment, even when age and occupation are taken into account. Even though service-related hearing loss has been documented going back to the second World War, the numbers are even more stunning for military personnel who served more recently. Recent veterans, who are also, typically, among the youngest former service members, are four times more likely than non-veterans to deal with severe hearing impairment.
Why is The Risk of Hearing Loss Greater For Veterans?
Two words: Noise exposure. Some occupations are clearly louder than others. For instance, a librarian will be working in a rather quiet environment. Thet would most likely be exposed to decibel levels ranging from a whisper (around 30 dB) to average conversation (60 dB).
At the other end of the sonic spectrum, for civilians at least, let’s say you’re a construction worker, and you’re on a job site that’s in the city. Background noises you would periodically hear, such as the siren of an emergency vehicle (120dB), or constantly, like heavy city traffic, are harmful to your hearing. Research has revealed that construction equipment noise, anything from power tools to bulldozers, exposes workers to noises louder than 85 dB.
As noisy as a heavy construction site is, active military personnel are constantly exposed to much louder noises. This is certainly true in combat areas, where troops hear sounds like gunfire (150 dB), hand grenades (158 dBA), and artillery (180 dB). And it’s not quiet at military bases either. Indoor engine rooms are very loud and the deck of an aircraft carrier can be as loud as 130 – 160 dB. Noise levels for pilots are high too, with helicopters on the low end (about 95-100 dB) and the majority of jets and other aircraft going above 100 dB. Another concern: Certain jet fuels, according to one study, interrupt the auditory process triggering hearing impairment.
And as a 2015 study of hearing loss amongst military personnel aptly points out, for the men and women who serve our country, opting out is not an option. So that they can complete a mission or execute daily activities, they have to bear with noise exposure. And even the best performing, standard issue, hearing protection frequently isn’t enough to protect against some of these noises.
What Can Veterans do to Address Hearing Loss?
Noise related hearing loss can be eased with hearing aids even though it can’t be cured. The most prevalent kind of hearing loss amongst veterans is a decreased ability to hear high-pitch sounds, but this type of hearing loss can be corrected with specialized hearing aids. Tinnitus can’t be cured, but as it’s frequently a symptom of another issue, treatment options are also available.
Veterans have already made lots of sacrifices in serving our country. Hearing shouldn’t have to be one of them.