The men and women who serve our country in uniform too often cope with debilitating mental, physical, and emotional difficulties after their service is finished. While healthcare for veterans is a continuing discussion, relatively little attention has been paid to the most prevalent disabilities diagnosed in veterans: Hearing loss and tinnitus.
Even if you take into account age and occupation, there’s a 30% higher chance of veterans having significant hearing impairment compared to civilians. Hearing loss, related to military service, has been reported at least back to World War 2, but it’s much more prevalent in veterans who have served more recently. Recent veterans, who are also, typically, among the youngest former service members, are four times more likely than non-veterans to deal with severe hearing impairment.
Why is The Risk of Hearing Loss Greater For Service Personnel?
The answer is simple: Noise exposure. Certainly, some vocations are noisier than others. For example, a librarian will be working in a rather quiet environment. Thet would likely be exposed to decibel levels ranging from a whisper (about 30 dB) to average conversation (60 dB).
For civilians who are at the other end of the sonic spectrum, like a city construction worker, the hazard rises. Sounds you’d constantly hear (heavy traffic, around 85 dB) or periodically (an ambulance siren’s around 120 dB) are at harmful levels, and that’s only background noise. Research has shown that construction equipment noise, anything from power tools to bulldozers, exposes laborers to sounds louder than 85 dB.
As loud as a heavy construction site is, active military personnel are constantly exposed to much louder sounds. In combat settings, troops are subjected to gunfire (150 dB), grenades (158 dB), and heavy artillery (180 dB). But military bases, whether at home or overseas, 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 pilots are high as well, with helicopters on the low end (around 95-100 dB) and the majority of jets and other aircraft going over 100 dB. Another concern: One study discovered that exposure to some types of jet fuel appears to cause hearing loss by disrupting auditory processing.
And as a 2015 study of hearing loss among military personnel adeptly shows, for the men and women who serve our country, opting out is not an option. In order to complete a mission or carry out day to day duties, 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 Treat Hearing Loss?
Noise induced hearing loss can be reduced with hearing aids even though it can’t be cured. The loss of high-frequency sound is the most prevalent kind of hearing impairment among veterans and this type of impairment can be managed with specialized hearing aids. Tinnitus can’t be cured, but as it’s frequently a symptom of another issue, treatment solutions are also available.
In serving our country, veterans have already made many sacrifices. Hearing shouldn’t have to be one of them.