The men and women who serve our country in uniform too frequently cope with debilitating mental, physical, and emotional challenges after their service has ended. Within the continuing dialogue concerning veteran’s healthcare, the most commonly diagnosed disability is often relatively overlooked: 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 non-veterans. Even though service-related hearing loss has been reported going back to World War 2, the numbers are even more stunning for military personnel who served more recently. Recent veterans, who are also, on average, among the youngest former service members, are four times more likely than non-veterans to endure severe hearing impairment.
Why is The Risk of Hearing Impairment Greater For Veterans?
The answer is simple: Noise exposure. Some vocations are clearly louder than others. Librarians, for example, are normally in a more quiet environment. Thet would most likely be exposed to volumes ranging from a whisper (around 30 dB) to normal conversation (60 dB).
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. Background noises you would sporadically hear, such as the siren of an emergency vehicle (120dB), or constantly, like heavy city traffic, are harmful to your hearing. Sounds 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 constantly 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 might be indoors (and no jets), but they’re still very loud. Noise levels for aviators are high too, with helicopters on the low end (about 95-100 dB) and most jets and other aircraft going above 100 dB. Another concern: Some jet fuels, according to one study, interrupt the auditory process causing hearing impairment.
And as a 2015 study of hearing loss among military personnel adeptly shows, 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 in order to accomplish missions and even everyday tasks. And even though hearing protection is standard issue, lots of the sounds just outlined are so loud that even the best-performing hearing protection is not enough.
How Can Veterans Treat 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 weakened ability to hear high-pitch sounds, but this type of hearing loss can be remedied with specialized hearing aids. Tinnitus is often a symptom of another health problem and although it can’t be cured, there are also treatment solutions for it.
In serving our country, veterans have already made lots of sacrifices. They shouldn’t have to sacrifice their hearing too.