When the men and women of our armed forces come home from service, they frequently suffer from emotional, physical, and mental challenges. Within the continuing dialogue about 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 severe hearing impairment compared to civilians. Though service-related hearing loss has been documented going back to World War 2, the numbers are even more stunning for military personnel who served more recently. Veterans who have served recently are generally among the younger group of service members and are also as much as four times more likely to have hearing impairment than non-veterans.
Why is The Risk of Hearing Impairment Greater For Veterans?
Two words: Exposure to noise. Sure, some occupations are louder than others. Librarians, for example, are normally in a more quiet setting. The sound level that they would usually be exposed to would be from 30dB (a whisper) to 60 dB (normal conversation).
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. 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 shown that construction equipment noise, anything from power tools to heavy loaders, exposes laborers to noises louder than 85 dB.
Construction sites are undoubtedly loud, but individuals in the military are constantly exposed to noise that is a lot louder. In combat situations, troops are exposed to gunfire (150 dB), grenades (158 dB), and heavy artillery (180 dB). And it’s not quiet at military bases either. On the deck of an aircraft carrier, noise levels can range from 130-160 dB; engine rooms may be indoors (and not have jets taking off), but they’re still incredibly loud. For aviators, sound levels are loud as well, with choppers being well above 100 dB and jets and other planes also being well over 100 dB. Another concern: Some jet fuels, according to one study, disrupt the auditory process causing hearing impairment.
Our service men and women don’t have the option of opting out, as a 2015 study plainly demonstrates. So that they can complete a mission or execute daily activities, they have to deal with noise exposure. And even the best performing, standard issue, hearing protection frequently isn’t enough to protect against some of these noises.
How Can Veterans Address Hearing Loss?
Noise induced hearing loss can be eased with hearing aids even though it can’t be cured. The most prevalent type of hearing loss among veterans is a decreased ability to hear high-pitch sounds, but this type of hearing impairment can be remedied with specialized hearing aids. Tinnitus is frequently a symptom of another health issue and although it can’t be cured, there are also treatment options for it.
Veterans have already made countless sacrifices in serving our country. They shouldn’t have to sacrifice their hearing too.