The men and women who serve our country in uniform too frequently cope with incapacitating physical, mental, and emotional difficulties after their service has ended. Within the continuing discussion about veteran’s healthcare, the most commonly diagnosed disability is often relatively disregarded: Hearing loss and tinnitus.
Veterans are 30% more likely than civilians to deal with severe hearing impairment, even when occupation and age are factored in. Though service-related hearing loss has been recognized going back to World War 2, the numbers are even more dramatic 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 endure severe hearing impairment.
Why is The Risk of Hearing Impairment Greater For Service Personnel?
The answer is simple: Exposure to noise. Certainly, some occupations are louder than others. Librarians, for instance, are normally in a more quiet environment. Thet would 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’re on a job site that’s in the city. Sounds you’d continuously hear (city traffic, about 85 dB) or periodically (an ambulance siren’s around 120 dB) are at unsafe levels, and that’s only background noise. Research has shown that construction equipment noise, anything from power tools to bulldozers, exposes workers to sounds louder than 85 dB.
As noisy as a heavy construction site is, active military personnel are constantly subjected to much louder noises. In combat situations, troops are exposed to gunfire (150 dB), grenades (158 dB), and heavy artillery (180 dB). But military bases, whether at home or overseas, are none too quiet either. On the deck of an aircraft carrier, sound levels can go from 130-160 dB; engine rooms might be inside (and no jets), but they’re still very loud. Noise levels for aviators are high as well, with choppers on the low end (around 95-100 dB) and the majority of jets and other aircraft going above 100 dB. Another concern: One study found that exposure to some forms of jet fuel seems to cause hearing impairment by interrupting auditory processing.
And as a 2015 study of hearing loss among military personnel adeptly highlights, for the men and women who serve our country, opting out is not an option. So that they can complete a mission or carry out everyday activities, they have to bear with noise exposure. And even the best performing, standard issue, hearing protection frequently isn’t enough to protect against some of these noises.
What Can Veterans do to 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-pitch sound is the most common form of hearing impairment among veterans and this type of impairment can be treated with specialized hearing aids. Tinnitus is often a symptom of another health issue and though it can’t be cured, there are also treatment solutions for it.
Veterans have already made many sacrifices in serving our country. They shouldn’t have to sacrifice their hearing too.