The men and women who serve our country in uniform too frequently cope with debilitating physical, mental, and emotional challenges after their service has ended. Within the continuing discussion about veteran’s healthcare, the most commonly diagnosed disability is often relatively disregarded: Hearing loss and tinnitus.
Veterans are 30% more likely than non-veterans to deal with severe hearing impairment, even when occupation and age are factored in. Hearing loss, related to military service, has been documented at least back to World War 2, but it’s far more prevalent in veterans who have served more recently. Recent veterans, who are also, generally, among the youngest former service members, are four times more likely than non-veterans to deal with severe hearing impairment.
Why is The Risk of Hearing Loss Greater For Service Personnel?
The answer is simple: Exposure to noise. Some professions are obviously noisier than others. Librarians, for example, are usually in a more quiet environment. Thet would likely be exposed to decibel levels ranging from a whisper (about 30 dB) to normal 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. Sounds you’d continuously hear (city traffic, about 85 dB) or sporadically (an ambulance siren’s around 120 dB) are at hazardous levels, and that’s only background noise. Noises louder than 85dB (from power tools to heavy equipment) are prevalent on construction sites according to research.
Construction sites are definitely loud, but individuals in the military are regularly exposed to noise that is a lot louder. This is certainly true in combat settings, where troops hear sounds like gunfire (150 dB), hand grenades (158 dBA), and artillery (180 dB). And it’s not quiet at military bases either. Indoor engine rooms are very loud and the deck of an aircraft carrier can be as loud as 130 – 160 dB. Noise levels for aviators are high as well, with helicopters on the low end (around 95-100 dB) and most jets and other aircraft going over 100 dB. Another concern: Certain jet fuels, according to one study, disrupt the auditory process causing hearing impairment.
Our service men and women don’t have the option of opting out, as a 2015 study plainly demonstrates. They have to contend with noise exposure in order to accomplish missions and even day-to-day activities. And even the best performing, standard issue, hearing protection often isn’t enough to protect against some of these noises.
How Can Veterans Deal With Hearing Loss?
Even though hearing loss due to noise exposure is irreversible, the impairment can be eased with hearing aids. The loss of high-pitch sound is the most prevalent kind of hearing impairment 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 issue, treatment solutions are also available.
Veterans have already made many sacrifices in serving our country. They shouldn’t have to sacrifice their hearing too.