The men and women who serve our country in uniform too frequently cope with incapacitating mental, physical, and emotional difficulties after their service is finished. While healthcare for veterans is an ongoing discussion, 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. Hearing loss, linked to military service, has been reported at least back to the second world war, but it’s much 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 Impairment Greater For Veterans?
The answer is simple: Exposure to noise. Sure, some occupations are noisier than others. Librarians, for instance, are usually in a more quiet atmosphere. The sound level that they would normally be exposed to would be from 30dB (a whisper) to 60 dB (standard conversation).
For civilians who are at the other end of the sonic scale, like an urban construction worker, the danger increases. Background noises you would periodically hear, like the siren of an emergency vehicle (120dB), or constantly, like heavy city traffic, are hazardous to your hearing. Research has shown that construction equipment noise, anything from power tools to heavy loaders, exposes laborers to sounds louder than 85 dB.
As loud as a heavy construction site is, active military personnel are regularly subjected to much louder sounds. 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. On the deck of an aircraft carrier, noise levels can go from 130-160 dB; engine rooms might be inside (and not have jets taking off), but they’re still incredibly loud. Noise levels for pilots are high too, with choppers on the low end (about 95-100 dB) and the majority of 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 amongst military personnel adeptly points out, for the men and women who serve our country, opting out is not an option. They need to cope with noise exposure so that they accomplish missions and even daily activities. And even the best performing, standard issue, hearing protection often isn’t enough to protect against some of these noises.
What Can Veterans do to Treat Hearing Loss?
Noise related hearing loss can be reduced with hearing aids even though it can’t be cured. The loss of high-pitch sound is the most common type of hearing loss among veterans and this type of impairment can be treated with specialized hearing aids. Tinnitus can’t be cured, but as it’s often a symptom of another issue, treatment options are also available.
Veterans have already made countless sacrifices in serving our country. Hearing shouldn’t have to be one of them.