The men and women who serve our country in uniform too frequently cope with incapacitating mental, physical, and emotional challenges 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.
Veterans are 30% more likely than civilians to deal with severe hearing impairment, even when occupation and age are factored in. Hearing loss, related to military service, has been recognized at least back to World War 2, but it’s a lot more widespread 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 endure severe hearing impairment.
Why Are Service Personnel at Greater Risk For Hearing Loss?
Two words: Noise exposure. Some occupations are clearly noisier than others. Librarians, for instance, are normally in a more quiet environment. Thet would most likely be exposed to decibel levels ranging from a whisper (around 30 dB) to average conversation (60 dB).
At the other end of the sonic scale, 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, such as the siren of an emergency vehicle (120dB), or continuously, like heavy city traffic, are hazardous to your hearing. Sounds louder than 85dB (from power tools to heavy equipment) are common on construction sites according to research.
As loud as a heavy construction site is, active military personnel are regularly subjected to much louder sounds. This is certainly true in combat areas, where troops hear noises like gunfire (150 dB), hand grenades (158 dBA), and artillery (180 dB). But military bases, whether at home or overseas, are none too quiet either. On the deck of an aircraft carrier, noise levels can range from 130-160 dB; engine rooms may be inside (and not have jets taking off), but they’re still very loud. For aviators, noise levels are high too, with helicopters being well over 100 dB and jets and other planes also being well above 100 dB. Another worry: One study revealed that exposure to some types of jet fuel appears to cause hearing loss by interrupting auditory processing.
And as a 2015 study of hearing loss among military personnel adeptly points out, for the men and women who serve our country, it’s not a choice, it’s a duty. They need to deal with noise exposure so that they accomplish missions and even everyday activities. And although hearing protection is standard issue, many of the sounds just discussed are so loud that even the best-performing hearing protection isn’t enough.
How Can Veterans Address Hearing Loss?
Although hearing loss due to noise exposure is permanent, the impairment can be alleviated with hearing aids. The loss of high-pitch sound is the most prevalent type of hearing loss among veterans and this kind of impairment can be managed with specialized hearing aids. Tinnitus can’t be cured, but as it’s often a symptom of another problem, treatment possibilities are also available.
Veterans have already made lots of sacrifices in serving our country. They shouldn’t have to sacrifice their hearing too.