The men and women who serve our country in uniform too often suffer debilitating mental, physical, and emotional challenges after their service has ended. While healthcare for veterans is a continuing discussion, relatively little attention has been paid to the most common disabilities diagnosed in veterans: Hearing loss and tinnitus.
Even if you factor in 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 reported going back to the second World War, the numbers are even more stunning for military personnel who 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 impairment than non-veterans.
Why is The Risk of Hearing Loss Greater For Service Personnel?
The answer is simple: Exposure to noise. Certainly, some vocations are louder than others. As an example, a librarian will be working in a relatively quiet setting. The volume of sound that they would normally be exposed to would be from 30dB (a whisper) to 60 dB (normal conversation).
For civilians who are at the other end of the sonic scale, like a city construction worker, the danger increases. Sounds you’d constantly hear (city traffic, about 85 dB) or periodically (an ambulance siren’s around 120 dB) are at harmful levels, and that’s only background noise. Research has revealed that construction equipment noise, anything from power tools to heavy loaders, exposes laborers to sounds louder than 85 dB.
Construction sites are definitely loud, but people in the military are regularly exposed to noise that is much louder. This is definitely true in combat areas, where troops hear noises 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. Noise levels for pilots are high as well, with choppers on the low end (about 95-100 dB) and most jets and other aircraft going over 100 dB. Another worry: One study revealed that exposure to some kinds of jet fuel appears to cause hearing loss by interrupting auditory processing.
Our service men and women don’t have the choice of opting out, as a 2015 study clearly demonstrates. They have to cope with noise exposure in order to complete missions and even day-to-day tasks. And although hearing protection is standard issue, many of the sounds just outlined are so loud that even the best-performing hearing protection is not enough.
What Can Veterans do to Deal With Hearing Loss?
Noise induced hearing loss can be reduced with hearing aids even though it can’t be cured. The most common type of hearing loss among veterans is a diminished ability to hear high-frequency sounds, but this kind of hearing impairment can be remedied with specialized hearing aids. Tinnitus can’t be cured, but as it’s often a symptom of another problem, treatment solutions are also available.
In serving our country, veterans have already made many sacrifices. They shouldn’t have to sacrifice their hearing too.