The men and women who serve our country in uniform too often endure debilitating physical, mental, and emotional challenges after their service is finished. Within the continuing dialogue about veteran’s healthcare, the most frequently diagnosed disability is often relatively disregarded: Hearing loss and tinnitus.
Even if you take into account age and occupation, there’s a 30% higher chance of veterans having significant hearing impairment compared to civilians. Hearing loss, linked to military service, has been recognized at least back to the second world war, but it’s much more widespread 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 suffer from severe hearing impairment.
Why Are Veterans at Greater Risk For Hearing Impairment?
Two words: Noise exposure. Sure, some vocations are louder than others. Librarians, for example, are normally in a more quiet setting. The sound level that they would normally be exposed to would be from 30dB (a whisper) to 60 dB (normal conversation).
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, like the siren of an emergency vehicle (120dB), or continuously, like heavy city traffic, are harmful to your hearing. Research has shown that construction equipment noise, anything from power tools to bulldozers, exposes workers to sounds louder than 85 dB.
As loud as a heavy construction site is, active military personnel are constantly exposed to much louder sounds. In combat scenarios, troops are exposed to gunfire (150 dB), grenades (158 dB), and heavy artillery (180 dB). And it isn’t 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. For pilots, sound levels are high too, with helicopters being well above 100 dB and jets and other planes also being well above 100 dB. Another worry: Certain jet fuels, according to one study, disrupt the auditory process causing hearing impairment.
And as a 2015 study of hearing loss among military personnel adeptly highlights, for the men and women who serve our country, it’s not a choice, it’s a duty. They have to contend with noise exposure in order to accomplish missions and even day-to-day activities. And even though hearing protection is standard issue, lots of the sounds just discussed are so loud that even the best-performing hearing protection is not enough.
What Can Veterans do to Treat Hearing Loss?
Though hearing loss due to noise exposure is permanent, the impairment can be eased with hearing aids. The most common kind of hearing loss among veterans is a decreased ability to hear high-pitch sounds, but this kind of hearing impairment can be remedied with specialized hearing aids. Tinnitus is often a symptom of another health issue and though it can’t be cured, there are also treatment solutions for it.
In serving our country, veterans have already made many sacrifices. Hearing shouldn’t have to be one of them.