The men and women who serve our country in uniform too often suffer debilitating mental, physical, and emotional difficulties after their service has ended. Within the continuing dialogue concerning veteran’s healthcare, the most frequently diagnosed disability is often relatively ignored: Tinnitus and hearing loss.
Even if you factor in age and occupation, there’s a 30% higher chance of veterans having significant hearing impairment compared to non-veterans. Even though service-related hearing loss has been reported going back to World War 2, the numbers are even more dramatic for military personnel who served more recently. Recent veterans, who are also, generally, among the youngest former service members, are four times more likely than non-veterans to suffer from severe hearing impairment.
Why is The Risk of Hearing Impairment Greater For Service Personnel?
The answer is simple: Noise exposure. Sure, some occupations are noisier than others. As an example, a librarian will be working in a rather quiet setting. They’d most likely be exposed to volumes ranging from a whisper (about 30 dB) to standard conversation (60 dB).
For civilians who are at the other end of the sonic spectrum, like a city construction worker, the danger increases. Background noises you would periodically hear, like the siren of an emergency vehicle (120dB), or continuously, like heavy city traffic, are hazardous to your hearing. Research has found that construction equipment noise, everything from power tools to bulldozers, exposes workers to sounds louder than 85 dB.
Construction sites are definitely loud, but individuals in the military are regularly exposed to noise that is far louder. This is definitely true in combat areas, where troops hear noises like gunfire (150 dB), hand grenades (158 dBA), and artillery (180 dB). But military bases, whether at home or overseas, are not very quiet either. On the deck of an aircraft carrier, sound levels can range from 130-160 dB; engine rooms might be indoors (and not have jets taking off), but they’re still incredibly loud. Noise levels for aviators 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 worry: One study revealed that exposure to some types of jet fuel appears to cause hearing loss by interrupting 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. So that they can complete a mission or carry out everyday tasks, they have to bear with noise exposure. And although hearing protection is standard issue, lots of the sounds just outlined are so loud that even the best-performing hearing protection is not enough.
What Can Veterans do to Address Hearing Loss?
Though hearing loss due to noise exposure is irreversible, the impairment can be eased with hearing aids. The most prevalent type of hearing loss amongst veterans is a decreased ability to hear high-pitch sounds, but this form of hearing impairment can be corrected with specialized hearing aids. Tinnitus is often a symptom of another health issue and though it can’t be cured, there are also treatment options for it.
Veterans have already made many sacrifices in serving our country. Hearing shouldn’t have to be one of them.