The men and women who serve our country in uniform too frequently suffer debilitating physical, mental, and emotional challenges after their service is finished. Within the continuing discussion about veteran’s healthcare, the most frequently diagnosed disability is often relatively overlooked: Hearing loss and tinnitus.
Veterans are 30% more likely than civilians to deal with severe hearing impairment, even when age and occupation are factored in. Hearing loss, related to military service, has been recognized at least back to the second world war, but it’s much more prevalent in veterans who have served more recently. Veterans who have served recently are generally 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 Impairment Greater For Veterans?
The answer is simple: Exposure to noise. Certainly, some vocations are louder than others. Librarians, for example, are normally in a more quiet atmosphere. The volume of sound that they would normally be exposed to would be from 30dB (a whisper) to 60 dB (average conversation).
For civilians who are at the other end of the sonic scale, such as a city construction worker, the danger rises. Background noises you would sporadically hear, like the siren of an emergency vehicle (120dB), or continuously, like heavy city traffic, are harmful to your hearing. Noises louder than 85dB (from power tools to heavy machinery) are prevalent on construction sites according to research.
Construction sites are undoubtedly loud, but people in the military are regularly exposed to noise that is a lot louder. In combat situations, troops are subjected to gunfire (150 dB), grenades (158 dB), and heavy 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. 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 worry: One study found that exposure to some kinds of jet fuel seems to cause hearing impairment by disrupting auditory processing.
And as a 2015 study of hearing loss amongst military personnel aptly highlights, for the men and women who serve our country, opting out is not an option. In order to complete a mission or execute day to day tasks, they have to deal with noise exposure. And even the best performing, standard issue, hearing protection frequently isn’t enough to protect against some of these noises.
How Can Veterans Address Hearing Loss?
Noise related hearing loss can be alleviated with hearing aids even though it can’t be cured. The most common type of hearing loss amongst veterans is a decreased ability to hear high-pitch sounds, but this kind of hearing loss can be remedied with specialized hearing aids. Tinnitus can’t be cured, but as it’s often a symptom of another problem, treatment possibilities are also available.
Veterans have already made many sacrifices in serving our country. They shouldn’t have to sacrifice their hearing too.