The men and women who serve our country in uniform too often endure debilitating mental, physical, and emotional difficulties after their service has ended. Within the continuing discussion about veteran’s healthcare, the most commonly diagnosed disability is often relatively overlooked: Tinnitus and hearing loss.
Veterans are 30% more likely than non-veterans to suffer from severe hearing impairment, even when occupation and age are factored in. Even though service-related hearing loss has been reported going back to the second World War, the numbers are even more dramatic for military personnel who served more recently. Recent veterans, who are also, generally, among the youngest former service members, are four times more likely than non-veterans to deal with severe hearing impairment.
Why Are Service Personnel at Greater Risk For Hearing Impairment?
Two words: Noise exposure. Certainly, some occupations are noisier than others. For instance, a librarian will be working in a rather quiet environment. The sound level that they would usually be exposed to would be from 30dB (a whisper) to 60 dB (normal conversation).
At the other end of the sonic scale, for civilians at least, let’s say you’re a construction worker, and you work on a job site that’s in the city. Background noises you would sporadically hear, such as the siren of an emergency vehicle (120dB), or continuously, like heavy city traffic, are hazardous to your hearing. Research has revealed that construction equipment noise, anything from power tools to bulldozers, exposes workers to sounds louder than 85 dB.
Construction sites are undoubtedly loud, but people in the military are constantly exposed to noise that is a lot louder. In combat scenarios, 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, sound levels can go from 130-160 dB; engine rooms may be indoors (and not have jets taking off), but they’re still incredibly loud. Noise levels for aviators are high too, with helicopters on the low end (around 95-100 dB) and the majority of jets and other aircraft going over 100 dB. Another worry: One study discovered that exposure to some types of jet fuel appears to cause hearing loss by disrupting auditory processing.
And as a 2015 study of hearing loss among military personnel adeptly highlights, for the men and women who serve our country, it’s not a choice, it’s a duty. In order to complete a mission or execute day to day activities, they have to deal with noise exposure. And even though hearing protection is standard issue, lots of the sounds just outlined are so loud that even the best-performing hearing protection is not enough.
What Can Veterans do to Treat Hearing Loss?
Even though hearing loss due to noise exposure is irreversible, the impairment can be alleviated with hearing aids. The most prevalent type of hearing loss among veterans is a diminished ability to hear high-pitch sounds, but this form of hearing loss can be remedied with specialized hearing aids. Tinnitus is often a symptom of another health problem and although 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.