The men and women who serve our country in uniform too often endure incapacitating physical, mental, and emotional difficulties after their service has ended. While healthcare for veterans is a continuing dialogue, relatively little attention has been paid to the most prevalent disabilities diagnosed in veterans: Hearing loss and tinnitus.
Veterans are 30% more likely than civilians to deal with significant hearing impairment, even when occupation and age are factored in. Hearing loss, related to military service, has been reported at least back to World War 2, but it’s far more widespread in veterans who have served more recently. Recent veterans, who are also, on average, among the youngest former service members, are four times more likely than non-veterans to suffer from severe hearing impairment.
Why is The Risk of Hearing Loss Greater For Service Personnel?
Two words: Exposure to noise. Certainly, some vocations are noisier than others. Librarians, for instance, are usually in a more quiet setting. 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, like the siren of an emergency vehicle (120dB), or continuously, like heavy city traffic, are hazardous to your hearing. Research has shown that construction equipment noise, everything from power tools to bulldozers, exposes workers to noises louder than 85 dB.
Construction sites are definitely loud, but people in the military are constantly exposed to noise that is a lot louder. In combat settings, troops are exposed to gunfire (150 dB), grenades (158 dB), and heavy artillery (180 dB). But military bases, whether overseas or at home, are none too quiet either. On the deck of an aircraft carrier, sound levels can go from 130-160 dB; engine rooms may be inside (and no jets), but they’re still incredibly loud. For pilots, noise levels are high also, with helicopters being well over 100 dB and jets and other planes also being well above 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. They need to contend with noise exposure so that they complete missions and even everyday activities. And although hearing protection is standard issue, lots of the sounds just outlined are so loud that even the best-performing hearing protection isn’t enough.
How Can Veterans Address Hearing Loss?
Although hearing loss due to noise exposure is permanent, the impairment can be reduced with hearing aids. The most common type of hearing loss amongst veterans is a decreased ability to hear high-pitch sounds, but this form of hearing loss can be corrected with specialized hearing aids. Tinnitus can’t be cured, but as it’s often a symptom of another issue, treatment possibilities are also available.
In serving our country, veterans have already made lots of sacrifices. Hearing shouldn’t have to be one of them.