The men and women who serve our country in uniform too frequently suffer debilitating mental, physical, and emotional difficulties after their service has ended. Within the continuing discussion concerning veteran’s healthcare, the most frequently diagnosed disability is often relatively disregarded: Tinnitus and hearing loss.
Veterans are 30% more likely than civilians to suffer from significant hearing impairment, even when age and occupation are taken into account. Hearing loss, related to military service, has been documented at least back to World War 2, but it’s a lot more widespread in veterans who have served more recently. Veterans who have served recently are typically among the younger group of service members and are also up to four times more likely to have hearing impairment than non-veterans.
Why is The Risk of Hearing Impairment Greater For Veterans?
Two words: Exposure to noise. Sure, some occupations are noisier than others. Librarians, for example, are normally in a more quiet atmosphere. Thet would likely be exposed to decibel levels ranging from a whisper (around 30 dB) to normal conversation (60 dB).
For civilians who are at the other end of the sonic spectrum, like a city construction worker, the hazard increases. Sounds you’d continuously hear (city traffic, around 85 dB) or sporadically (an ambulance siren’s around 120 dB) are at unsafe levels, and that’s just background noise. Research has revealed that construction equipment noise, anything from power tools to heavy loaders, exposes workers to sounds louder than 85 dB.
As loud as a heavy construction site is, active military personnel are constantly subjected to much louder sounds. In combat scenarios, troops are exposed to gunfire (150 dB), grenades (158 dB), and heavy artillery (180 dB). But military bases, whether at home or overseas, are not very quiet either. On the deck of an aircraft carrier, sound levels can go from 130-160 dB; engine rooms might be indoors (and not have jets taking off), but they’re still incredibly loud. Noise levels for aviators are high as well, with choppers on the low end (about 95-100 dB) and the majority of jets and other aircraft going above 100 dB. Another worry: Some jet fuels, according to one study, interrupt the auditory process causing hearing impairment.
Our service men and women don’t have the choice of opting out, as a 2015 study plainly demonstrates. They need to cope with noise exposure in order to accomplish missions and even everyday activities. And even the best performing, standard issue, hearing protection often isn’t enough to protect against some of these noises.
How Can Veterans Address Hearing Loss?
Though hearing loss due to noise exposure is irreversible, the impairment can be reduced with hearing aids. The most prevalent kind of hearing loss amongst veterans is a weakened ability to hear high-pitch sounds, but this kind of hearing impairment can be corrected with specialized hearing aids. Tinnitus can’t be cured, but as it’s often a symptom of another problem, treatment solutions are also available.
Veterans have already made many sacrifices in serving our country. Hearing shouldn’t have to be one of them.