The men and women who serve our country in uniform too frequently endure debilitating physical, mental, and emotional difficulties after their service has ended. Within the continuing dialogue about veteran’s healthcare, the most commonly diagnosed disability is often relatively neglected: Tinnitus and hearing loss.
Veterans are 30% more likely than non-veterans to deal with significant hearing impairment, even when occupation and age are factored in. Hearing loss, linked to military service, has been recognized at least back to the second world war, but it’s a lot more widespread in veterans who have served more recently. Veterans who have served recently are typically among the younger group of service members and are also as much as four times more likely to have hearing loss than non-veterans.
Why is The Risk of Hearing Impairment Greater For Veterans?
The answer is simple: Noise exposure. Some professions are clearly noisier than others. Librarians, for instance, are usually in a more quiet atmosphere. The volume of sound that they would usually be exposed to would be from 30dB (a whisper) to 60 dB (standard 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 sporadically hear, like the siren of an emergency vehicle (120dB), or constantly, like heavy city traffic, are hazardous to your hearing. Sounds louder than 85dB (from power tools to heavy equipment) are prevalent on construction sites according to research.
As loud as a heavy construction site is, active military personnel are regularly exposed to much louder noises. This is certainly true in combat settings, where troops hear sounds like gunfire (150 dB), hand grenades (158 dBA), and artillery (180 dB). But military bases, whether overseas or at home, are not very quiet either. Indoor engine rooms are really loud and the deck of an aircraft carrier can be as loud as 130 – 160 dB. Noise levels for aviators are high too, with choppers on the low end (about 95-100 dB) and most jets and other aircraft going above 100 dB. Another concern: One study found that exposure to some forms of jet fuel appears to cause hearing impairment by interrupting auditory processing.
Our service men and women don’t have the choice of opting out, as a 2015 study clearly demonstrates. So that they can complete a mission or perform everyday tasks, they have to bear with noise exposure. And even though hearing protection is standard issue, many of the sounds just described are so loud that even the best-performing hearing protection isn’t enough.
What Can Veterans do to Deal With Hearing Loss?
Noise induced hearing loss can be alleviated with hearing aids even though it can’t be cured. The most common kind of hearing loss among veterans is a weakened ability to hear high-frequency 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 problem, treatment possibilities are also available.
In serving our country, veterans have already made lots of sacrifices. They shouldn’t have to sacrifice their hearing too.