The men and women who serve our country in uniform too often suffer debilitating mental, physical, and emotional difficulties after their service has ended. While healthcare for veterans is a recurring dialogue, relatively little attention has been paid to the most common disabilities diagnosed in veterans: 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. Hearing loss, related to military service, has been reported at least back to World War 2, but it’s much more widespread in veterans who have served more recently. Veterans who have served recently are commonly among the younger group of service members and are also up to four times more likely to have hearing loss than non-veterans.
Why Are Veterans at Greater Risk For Hearing Impairment?
The answer is simple: Noise exposure. Some vocations are obviously louder than others. For instance, a librarian will be working in a relatively quiet setting. The volume of sound that they would usually be exposed to would be from 30dB (a whisper) to 60 dB (normal conversation).
At the other end of the sonic spectrum, for civilians anyway, let’s say you’re a construction worker, and you work on a job site that’s in the city. Sounds you’d continuously hear (heavy traffic, around 85 dB) or sporadically (an ambulance siren’s about 120 dB) are at unsafe levels, and that’s only background noise. Research has found that construction equipment noise, anything from power tools to heavy loaders, exposes laborers to noises louder than 85 dB.
As loud as a heavy construction site is, active military personnel are constantly subjected to much louder sounds. This is certainly true in combat areas, where troops hear sounds like gunfire (150 dB), hand grenades (158 dBA), and artillery (180 dB). And it isn’t quiet at military bases either. Indoor engine rooms are really loud and the deck of an aircraft carrier can be as loud as 130 – 160 dB. For pilots, sound levels are loud as well, with helicopters being well over 100 dB and jets and other planes also being well above 100 dB. Another worry: One study found that exposure to some forms of jet fuel seems to cause hearing loss by disrupting auditory processing.
Our service men and women don’t have the option of opting out, as a 2015 study clearly demonstrates. They need to deal with noise exposure in order to accomplish missions and even everyday activities. And although hearing protection is standard issue, many of the sounds just outlined are so loud that even the best-performing hearing protection isn’t enough.
How Can Veterans Address Hearing Loss?
Noise related hearing loss can be eased with hearing aids even though it can’t be cured. The loss of high-frequency sound is the most prevalent type of hearing loss among veterans and this type of impairment can be treated with specialized hearing aids. Tinnitus can’t be cured, but as it’s often a symptom of another issue, treatment options are also available.
Veterans have already made countless sacrifices in serving our country. They shouldn’t have to sacrifice their hearing too.