The men and women who serve our country in uniform too often suffer incapacitating mental, physical, and emotional difficulties after their service is finished. Within the continuing discussion concerning veteran’s healthcare, the most frequently diagnosed disability is often relatively disregarded: Tinnitus and hearing loss.
Even if you take into account 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 recognized going back to World War 2, the numbers are even more dramatic for military personnel who served more recently. Veterans who have served recently are typically among the younger group of service members and are also up to four times more likely to have hearing impairment than non-veterans.
Why Are Veterans at Greater Risk For Hearing Loss?
Two words: Exposure to noise. Certainly, some vocations are louder than others. As an example, a librarian will be working in a relatively quiet setting. The sound level that they would usually be exposed to would be from 30dB (a whisper) to 60 dB (normal conversation).
For civilians who are at the other end of the sonic scale, like an urban construction worker, the hazard increases. Background noises you would periodically hear, like the siren of an emergency vehicle (120dB), or constantly, like heavy city traffic, are harmful to your hearing. Sounds louder than 85dB (from power tools to heavy machinery) are prevalent on construction sites according to research.
As loud as a heavy construction site is, active military personnel are regularly subjected to much louder sounds. In combat scenarios, troops are subjected 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, sound levels can go from 130-160 dB; engine rooms may be indoors (and not have jets taking off), but they’re still extremely loud. For aviators, noise levels are loud as well, with helicopters being well above 100 dB and jets and other planes also being well over 100 dB. Another worry: One study found that exposure to some types of jet fuel seems to cause hearing impairment by interrupting auditory processing.
And as a 2015 study of hearing loss among military personnel aptly points out, for the men and women who serve our country, it’s not a choice, it’s a duty. They have to deal with noise exposure so that they accomplish missions and even everyday tasks. And even though hearing protection is standard issue, lots of the sounds just described are so loud that even the best-performing hearing protection is not enough.
What Can Veterans do to Deal With Hearing Loss?
Even though hearing loss due to noise exposure is permanent, the impairment can be eased with hearing aids. The most common type of hearing loss amongst veterans is a weakened ability to hear high-pitch sounds, but this form of hearing loss can be corrected with specialized hearing aids. Tinnitus is frequently a symptom of another health issue and though it can’t be cured, there are also treatment options for it.
Veterans have already made lots of sacrifices in serving our country. Hearing shouldn’t have to be one of them.