The men and women who serve our country in uniform too often suffer debilitating physical, mental, and emotional difficulties after their service has ended. Within the continuing dialogue about veteran’s healthcare, the most frequently diagnosed disability is often relatively overlooked: Tinnitus and hearing loss.
Even if you take into account age and occupation, there’s a 30% higher chance of veterans having significant hearing impairment compared to civilians. Even though service-related hearing loss has been documented going back to World War 2, the numbers are even more dramatic for military personnel who served more recently. Recent veterans, who are also, on average, among the youngest former service members, are four times more likely than non-veterans to endure severe hearing impairment.
Why is The Risk of Hearing Impairment Greater For Service Personnel?
Two words: Exposure to noise. Sure, some occupations are noisier than others. Librarians, for instance, are normally in a more quiet atmosphere. Thet would likely be exposed to volumes ranging from a whisper (around 30 dB) to average conversation (60 dB).
At the other end of the sonic scale, for civilians anyway, let’s say you’re a construction worker, and you’re on a job site that’s in the city. Background noises you would periodically hear, like the siren of an emergency vehicle (120dB), or constantly, like heavy city traffic, are hazardous to your hearing. Research has revealed that construction equipment noise, anything from power tools to bulldozers, exposes workers to sounds louder than 85 dB.
As noisy as a heavy construction site is, active military personnel are constantly subjected to much louder noises. In combat situations, troops are subjected to gunfire (150 dB), grenades (158 dB), and heavy artillery (180 dB). But military bases, whether overseas or at home, are none too quiet either. On the deck of an aircraft carrier, noise levels can go from 130-160 dB; engine rooms may be inside (and not have jets taking off), but they’re still very loud. For aviators, sound levels are high also, with choppers being well over 100 dB and jets and other planes also being well above 100 dB. Another worry: One study discovered that exposure to some forms of jet fuel seems to cause hearing impairment by interrupting auditory processing.
And as a 2015 study of hearing loss amongst military personnel aptly highlights, for the men and women who serve our country, it’s not a choice, it’s a duty. In order to complete a mission or execute day to day duties, they have to deal with noise exposure. And even though hearing protection is standard issue, lots of the sounds just discussed are so loud that even the best-performing hearing protection is not enough.
What Can Veterans do to Address Hearing Loss?
Although hearing loss due to noise exposure is permanent, the impairment can be alleviated with hearing aids. The loss of high-frequency sound is the most common type of hearing impairment among veterans and this kind of impairment can be managed 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.
Veterans have already made lots of sacrifices in serving our country. Hearing shouldn’t have to be one of them.