The men and women who serve our country in uniform too often endure incapacitating mental, physical, and emotional difficulties after their service is finished. Within the continuing dialogue about veteran’s healthcare, the most commonly diagnosed disability is often relatively overlooked: Hearing loss and tinnitus.
Even if you factor in age and occupation, there’s a 30% higher chance of veterans having significant hearing impairment compared to civilians. Even though service-related hearing loss has been reported going back to World War 2, 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 endure severe hearing impairment.
Why Are Service Personnel at Greater Risk For Hearing Loss?
The answer is simple: Exposure to noise. Sure, some vocations are louder than others. Librarians, for instance, are usually in a more quiet setting. Thet would most likely be exposed to volumes ranging from a whisper (about 30 dB) to normal conversation (60 dB).
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. Sounds you’d constantly hear (city traffic, around 85 dB) or periodically (an ambulance siren’s around 120 dB) are at harmful levels, and that’s just background noise. Noises louder than 85dB (from power tools to heavy equipment) are common on construction sites according to research.
Construction sites are definitely loud, but individuals in the military are constantly exposed to noise that is far louder. This is certainly true in combat areas, where troops hear noises like gunfire (150 dB), hand grenades (158 dBA), and artillery (180 dB). And it’s not quiet at military bases either. On the deck of an aircraft carrier, sound levels can range from 130-160 dB; engine rooms might be indoors (and no jets), but they’re still extremely loud. For aviators, sound levels are high also, with choppers being well over 100 dB and jets and other planes also being well above 100 dB. Another worry: Some jet fuels, according to one study, disrupt the auditory process causing hearing impairment.
And as a 2015 study of hearing loss among military personnel adeptly shows, 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 carry out day to day activities, they have to deal with noise exposure. And although hearing protection is standard issue, lots of the sounds just described are so loud that even the best-performing hearing protection isn’t enough.
How Can Veterans Treat Hearing Loss?
Even though hearing loss due to noise exposure is irreversible, the impairment can be eased with hearing aids. The loss of high-frequency sound is the most common type of hearing loss among veterans and this type of impairment can be treated with specialized hearing aids. Tinnitus can’t be cured, but as it’s frequently a symptom of another problem, treatment options are also available.
Veterans have already made many sacrifices in serving our country. Hearing shouldn’t have to be one of them.