The men and women who serve our country in uniform too often endure incapacitating physical, mental, and emotional difficulties after their service has ended. Within the continuing dialogue concerning veteran’s healthcare, the most frequently diagnosed disability is often relatively neglected: Tinnitus and hearing loss.
Veterans are 30% more likely than civilians to suffer from severe hearing impairment, even when age and occupation are taken into account. 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. 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 Loss Greater For Veterans?
Two words: Exposure to noise. Some occupations are obviously louder than others. For example, a librarian will be working in a relatively quiet setting. Thet would most likely be exposed to volumes ranging from a whisper (about 30 dB) to normal conversation (60 dB).
For civilians who are at the other end of the sonic spectrum, like a city construction worker, the danger increases. Background noises you would periodically hear, like the siren of an emergency vehicle (120dB), or continuously, like heavy city traffic, are harmful to your hearing. Research has found that construction equipment noise, everything from power tools to bulldozers, exposes laborers to noises louder than 85 dB.
Construction sites are definitely loud, but individuals in the military are regularly exposed to noise that is much louder. In combat situations, troops are exposed 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, noise levels can go from 130-160 dB; engine rooms might be indoors (and not have jets taking off), but they’re still incredibly loud. For pilots, noise levels are high too, with helicopters being well above 100 dB and jets and other planes also being well above 100 dB. Another worry: One study discovered that exposure to some kinds of jet fuel seems to cause hearing impairment by interrupting auditory processing.
And as a 2015 study of hearing loss among military personnel aptly highlights, for the men and women who serve our country, it’s not a choice, it’s a duty. They have to cope with noise exposure in order to complete missions and even day-to-day activities. And even though hearing protection is standard issue, many of the sounds just discussed are so loud that even the best-performing hearing protection isn’t enough.
How Can Veterans Deal With Hearing Loss?
Even though hearing loss due to noise exposure is irreversible, the impairment can be alleviated with hearing aids. The loss of high-pitch sound is the most common type of hearing impairment among veterans and this type of impairment can be managed with specialized hearing aids. Tinnitus can’t be cured, but as it’s often a symptom of another problem, treatment solutions are also available.
Veterans have already made lots of sacrifices in serving our country. Hearing shouldn’t have to be one of them.