When the men and women of our armed forces come home from service, they often suffer from physical, emotional, and mental challenges. While healthcare for veterans is a recurring dialogue, relatively little attention has been paid to the most prevalent disabilities diagnosed in veterans: Tinnitus and hearing loss.
Even if you factor in age and occupation, there’s a 30% higher chance of veterans having significant hearing impairment compared to non-veterans. Though service-related hearing loss has been reported going back to the second World War, the numbers are even more stunning for military personnel who served more recently. Recent veterans, who are also, typically, 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 Loss?
The answer is simple: Exposure to noise. Some professions are obviously noisier than others. For instance, a librarian will be working in a rather quiet environment. Thet would likely be exposed to volumes ranging from a whisper (about 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. Sounds you’d constantly hear (heavy traffic, about 85 dB) or sporadically (an ambulance siren’s around 120 dB) are at harmful levels, and that’s just background noise. Sounds louder than 85dB (from power tools to heavy equipment) are prevalent on construction sites according to research.
Construction sites are undoubtedly loud, but people in the military are regularly exposed to noise that is a lot louder. In combat situations, troops are subjected to gunfire (150 dB), grenades (158 dB), and heavy 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 extremely loud. Noise levels for pilots are high too, with helicopters on the low end (about 95-100 dB) and the majority of jets and other aircraft going over 100 dB. Another concern: One study found that exposure to some types of jet fuel appears to cause hearing impairment by interrupting auditory processing.
Our service men and women don’t have the option of opting out, as a 2015 study clearly demonstrates. So that they can complete a mission or carry out day to day tasks, they have to cope with noise exposure. 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?
Noise related hearing loss can be alleviated with hearing aids even though it can’t be cured. The loss of high-frequency sound is the most prevalent form of hearing loss among veterans and this type of impairment can be treated with specialized hearing aids. Tinnitus is frequently a symptom of another health issue and though it can’t be cured, there are also treatment options for it.
In serving our country, veterans have already made lots of sacrifices. Hearing shouldn’t have to be one of them.