The men and women who serve our country in uniform too often suffer debilitating physical, mental, and emotional challenges after their service is finished. While healthcare for veterans is a continuing discussion, relatively little attention has been paid to the most common disabilities diagnosed in veterans: Hearing loss and tinnitus.
Even if you factor in age and occupation, there’s a 30% higher chance of veterans having severe hearing impairment compared to non-veterans. Hearing loss, related to military service, has been reported at least back to the second world war, but it’s far more prevalent in veterans who have 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 Are Service Personnel at Greater Risk For Hearing Impairment?
The answer is simple: Exposure to noise. Sure, some occupations are noisier than others. For instance, a librarian will be working in a fairly quiet environment. Thet would likely be exposed to volumes ranging from a whisper (around 30 dB) to average conversation (60 dB).
For civilians who are at the other end of the sonic spectrum, such as an urban construction worker, the hazard rises. Sounds you’d constantly hear (city traffic, about 85 dB) or periodically (an ambulance siren’s about 120 dB) are at harmful levels, and that’s only background noise. Sounds louder than 85dB (from power tools to heavy equipment) are common on construction sites according to research.
As noisy as a heavy construction site is, active military personnel are regularly exposed to much louder noises. In combat scenarios, 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 might be inside (and no jets), but they’re still incredibly loud. 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 over 100 dB. Another worry: One study discovered that exposure to some types of jet fuel appears to cause hearing loss by disrupting auditory processing.
Our service men and women don’t have the choice of opting out, as a 2015 study clearly demonstrates. In order to complete a mission or perform daily activities, they have to cope with noise exposure. And even the best performing, standard issue, hearing protection often isn’t enough to protect against some of these noises.
How Can Veterans Address Hearing Loss?
Noise related hearing loss can be alleviated with hearing aids even though it can’t be cured. The loss of high-frequency sound is the most common kind of hearing loss among veterans and this type of impairment can be treated 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.
In serving our country, veterans have already made lots of sacrifices. Hearing shouldn’t have to be one of them.