When the men and women of our armed forces come home from service, they frequently suffer from physical, emotional, and mental challenges. While healthcare for veterans is a recurring dialogue, relatively little attention has been paid to the most common disabilities diagnosed in veterans: Hearing loss and tinnitus.
Even if you take into account age and occupation, there’s a 30% higher chance of veterans having severe hearing impairment compared to non-veterans. Hearing loss, related to military service, has been recognized at least back to the second world war, but it’s a lot more prevalent in veterans who have served more recently. Veterans who have served recently are commonly among the younger group of service members and are also as much as four times more likely to have hearing impairment than non-veterans.
Why is The Risk of Hearing Loss Greater For Veterans?
The answer is simple: Noise exposure. Some professions are obviously louder than others. Librarians, for instance, are normally in a more quiet environment. They’d most likely be exposed to volumes ranging from a whisper (about 30 dB) to standard conversation (60 dB).
For civilians who are at the other end of the sonic scale, like a city construction worker, the hazard rises. Sounds you’d continuously hear (city traffic, around 85 dB) or periodically (an ambulance siren’s about 120 dB) are at unsafe levels, and that’s just background noise. Research has found that construction equipment noise, anything from power tools to bulldozers, exposes workers to sounds louder than 85 dB.
As loud as a heavy construction site is, active military personnel are constantly exposed to much louder sounds. This is definitely true in combat settings, where troops hear sounds like gunfire (150 dB), hand grenades (158 dBA), and artillery (180 dB). And it’s not quiet at military bases either. Indoor engine rooms are very loud and the deck of an aircraft carrier can be as loud as 130 – 160 dB. For aviators, sound levels are high as well, with helicopters being well over 100 dB and jets and other planes also being well over 100 dB. Another concern: One study found that exposure to some forms of jet fuel appears to cause hearing impairment by disrupting auditory processing.
And as a 2015 study of hearing loss amongst military personnel aptly points out, for the men and women who serve our country, it’s not a choice, it’s a duty. So that they can complete a mission or execute daily activities, they have to deal with noise exposure. And although hearing protection is standard issue, lots of the sounds just discussed are so loud that even the best-performing hearing protection is not enough.
What Can Veterans do to Treat Hearing Loss?
Noise related hearing loss can be reduced with hearing aids even though it can’t be cured. The most prevalent kind of hearing loss amongst veterans is a weakened ability to hear high-frequency sounds, but this type of hearing loss can be remedied with specialized hearing aids. Tinnitus is frequently a symptom of another health problem and though it can’t be cured, there are also treatment solutions for it.
Veterans have already made countless sacrifices in serving our country. Hearing shouldn’t have to be one of them.