When the men and women of our armed forces return home from service, they frequently suffer from physical, emotional, and mental difficulties. While healthcare for veterans is a continuing dialogue, relatively little attention has been paid to the most prevalent 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. Though service-related hearing loss has been reported going back to the second World War, the numbers are even more dramatic for military personnel who served more recently. Recent veterans, who are also, generally, among the youngest former service members, are four times more likely than non-veterans to suffer from severe hearing impairment.
Why is The Risk of Hearing Impairment Greater For Veterans?
Two words: Exposure to noise. Certainly, some occupations are louder than others. As an example, a librarian will be working in a fairly quiet setting. The sound level that they would usually be exposed to would be from 30dB (a whisper) to 60 dB (average conversation).
For civilians who are at the other end of the sonic spectrum, such as a city construction worker, the danger rises. Sounds you’d continuously hear (city traffic, around 85 dB) or periodically (an ambulance siren’s around 120 dB) are at unsafe levels, and that’s only background noise. Noises louder than 85dB (from power tools to heavy machinery) are common on construction sites according to research.
Construction sites are undoubtedly loud, but people in the military are regularly exposed to noise that is far louder. In combat scenarios, troops are subjected to gunfire (150 dB), grenades (158 dB), and heavy artillery (180 dB). And it’s not quiet at military bases either. On the deck of an aircraft carrier, sound levels can go from 130-160 dB; engine rooms may be indoors (and no jets), but they’re still very loud. Noise levels for aviators are high too, with choppers on the low end (about 95-100 dB) and the majority of jets and other aircraft going over 100 dB. Another worry: One study found that exposure to some types of jet fuel seems to cause hearing loss by disrupting auditory processing.
And as a 2015 study of hearing loss amongst military personnel aptly shows, for the men and women who serve our country, opting out is not an option. In order to complete a mission or perform everyday tasks, they have to cope with noise exposure. And even the best performing, standard issue, hearing protection frequently isn’t enough to protect against some of these noises.
What Can Veterans do to Deal With Hearing Loss?
Even though 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 although it can’t be cured, there are also treatment solutions for it.
In serving our country, veterans have already made many sacrifices. They shouldn’t have to sacrifice their hearing too.