The men and women who serve our country in uniform too frequently cope with debilitating physical, mental, and emotional difficulties after their service has ended. While healthcare for veterans is a recurring discussion, relatively little attention has been paid to the most common disabilities diagnosed in veterans: 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 documented going back to World War 2, the numbers are even more dramatic for military personnel who served more recently. Veterans who have served recently are generally among the younger group of service members and are also up to 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. Sure, some occupations are noisier than others. Librarians, for example, are usually in a more quiet atmosphere. They’d most likely be exposed to decibel levels 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 danger rises. Background noises you would sporadically hear, like the siren of an emergency vehicle (120dB), or constantly, like heavy city traffic, are harmful to your hearing. Research has revealed that construction equipment noise, everything from power tools to heavy loaders, exposes laborers to sounds louder than 85 dB.
Construction sites are undoubtedly loud, but people in the military are regularly exposed to noise that is much louder. In combat settings, troops are subjected 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. Indoor engine rooms are really loud and the deck of an aircraft carrier can be as loud as 130 – 160 dB. For pilots, sound levels are high too, with helicopters being well above 100 dB and jets and other planes also being well over 100 dB. Another concern: Certain jet fuels, according to one study, interrupt the auditory process triggering hearing impairment.
Our service men and women don’t have the option of opting out, as a 2015 study clearly demonstrates. They have to cope with noise exposure in order to complete missions and even daily tasks. And even though hearing protection is standard issue, many of the sounds just outlined are so loud that even the best-performing hearing protection is not enough.
How Can Veterans Treat Hearing Loss?
Although hearing loss due to noise exposure is permanent, the impairment can be eased with hearing aids. The loss of high-frequency sound is the most prevalent kind of hearing loss among veterans and this type of impairment can be managed with specialized hearing aids. Tinnitus is often a symptom of another health problem and although it can’t be cured, there are also treatment solutions for it.
In serving our country, veterans have already made many sacrifices. Hearing shouldn’t have to be one of them.