The men and women who serve our country in uniform too frequently suffer incapacitating mental, physical, and emotional challenges after their service is finished. Within the continuing dialogue concerning veteran’s healthcare, the most commonly diagnosed disability is often relatively ignored: Tinnitus and hearing loss.
Veterans are 30% more likely than civilians to deal with severe hearing impairment, even when age and occupation are taken into account. 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. Veterans who have served recently are typically among the younger group of service members and are also as much as four times more likely to have hearing loss than non-veterans.
Why Are Veterans at Greater Risk For Hearing Loss?
The answer is simple: Exposure to noise. Sure, some occupations are louder than others. Librarians, for instance, are usually in a more quiet atmosphere. They’d most likely be exposed to decibel levels ranging from a whisper (around 30 dB) to average 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 periodically hear, such as the siren of an emergency vehicle (120dB), or continuously, like heavy city traffic, are hazardous to your hearing. Noises louder than 85dB (from power tools to heavy equipment) are common on construction sites according to research.
Construction sites are definitely loud, but individuals in the military are constantly exposed to noise that is far louder. This is definitely true in combat settings, where troops hear sounds like gunfire (150 dB), hand grenades (158 dBA), and artillery (180 dB). But military bases, whether overseas or at home, are none too quiet either. Indoor engine rooms are very loud and the deck of an aircraft carrier can be as loud as 130 – 160 dB. For aviators, noise levels are high also, with helicopters being well over 100 dB and jets and other planes also being well over 100 dB. Another concern: One study discovered that exposure to some forms of jet fuel seems to cause hearing loss by disrupting auditory processing.
And as a 2015 study of hearing loss among military personnel aptly highlights, for the men and women who serve our country, opting out is not an option. They need to deal with noise exposure so that they complete missions and even everyday tasks. And even though hearing protection is standard issue, lots of the sounds just described are so loud that even the best-performing hearing protection isn’t enough.
What Can Veterans do to Address Hearing Loss?
Noise induced hearing loss can be alleviated with hearing aids even though it can’t be cured. The loss of high-pitch sound is the most prevalent type of hearing loss among veterans and this kind of impairment can be treated with specialized hearing aids. Tinnitus is frequently 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.