The men and women who serve our country in uniform too frequently endure incapacitating physical, mental, and emotional challenges after their service is finished. Within the continuing discussion concerning veteran’s healthcare, the most frequently diagnosed disability is often relatively overlooked: Hearing loss and tinnitus.
Veterans are 30% more likely than non-veterans to suffer from significant hearing impairment, even when age and occupation are factored in. Hearing loss, related to military service, has been reported at least back to World War 2, but it’s much more prevalent in veterans who have served more recently. Recent veterans, who are also, typically, among the youngest former service members, are four times more likely than non-veterans to endure severe hearing impairment.
Why is The Risk of Hearing Impairment Greater For Service Personnel?
The answer is simple: Exposure to noise. Certainly, some occupations are noisier than others. For example, a librarian will be working in a relatively quiet environment. Thet would most likely be exposed to volumes ranging from a whisper (about 30 dB) to standard 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 work on a job site that’s in the city. Sounds you’d constantly hear (city traffic, around 85 dB) or sporadically (an ambulance siren’s about 120 dB) are at unsafe levels, and that’s just background noise. Research has shown that construction equipment noise, everything from power tools to heavy loaders, exposes laborers to sounds louder than 85 dB.
Construction sites are undoubtedly loud, but individuals in the military are constantly exposed to noise that is much louder. In combat situations, troops are subjected to gunfire (150 dB), grenades (158 dB), and heavy artillery (180 dB). But military bases, whether overseas or at home, are none too quiet 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 aviators are high as well, with helicopters on the low end (around 95-100 dB) and most jets and other aircraft going over 100 dB. Another worry: One study revealed that exposure to some types of jet fuel seems to cause hearing impairment by disrupting auditory processing.
And as a 2015 study of hearing loss amongst military personnel adeptly highlights, for the men and women who serve our country, opting out is not an option. They need to cope with noise exposure in order to accomplish missions and even everyday tasks. And even though hearing protection is standard issue, many of the sounds just outlined are so loud that even the best-performing hearing protection is not enough.
How Can Veterans Address Hearing Loss?
Even though hearing loss due to noise exposure is irreversible, the impairment can be reduced with hearing aids. The most common type of hearing loss among veterans is a weakened ability to hear high-pitch sounds, but this form of hearing loss can be remedied with specialized hearing aids. Tinnitus can’t be cured, but as it’s frequently a symptom of another issue, treatment possibilities are also available.
Veterans have already made many sacrifices in serving our country. They shouldn’t have to sacrifice their hearing too.