When the men and women of our armed forces come home from service, they often suffer from emotional, physical, and mental hardships. Within the continuing discussion concerning veteran’s healthcare, the most frequently diagnosed disability is often relatively disregarded: Tinnitus and hearing loss.
Even if you factor in age and occupation, there’s a 30% higher chance of veterans having severe hearing impairment compared to non-veterans. Hearing loss, related to military service, has been recognized at least back to the second world war, but it’s far more widespread in veterans who have 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 Veterans at Greater Risk For Hearing Impairment?
The answer is simple: Exposure to noise. Sure, some occupations are louder than others. Librarians, for example, are normally in a more quiet atmosphere. The sound level that they would normally be exposed to would be from 30dB (a whisper) to 60 dB (normal conversation).
At the other end of the sonic spectrum, for civilians anyway, 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, like the siren of an emergency vehicle (120dB), or constantly, like heavy city traffic, are harmful to your hearing. Research has shown that construction equipment noise, anything from power tools to bulldozers, exposes laborers to sounds louder than 85 dB.
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 settings, where troops hear sounds like gunfire (150 dB), hand grenades (158 dBA), and artillery (180 dB). But military bases, whether at home or overseas, are not very quiet either. On the deck of an aircraft carrier, noise levels can go from 130-160 dB; engine rooms might be inside (and not have jets taking off), but they’re still extremely loud. Noise levels for aviators are high as well, with helicopters on the low end (around 95-100 dB) and the majority of jets and other aircraft going over 100 dB. Another worry: Some jet fuels, according to one study, interrupt the auditory process triggering hearing impairment.
And as a 2015 study of hearing loss among military personnel aptly points out, for the men and women who serve our country, opting out is not an option. They need to contend with noise exposure in order to complete missions and even day-to-day tasks. And although hearing protection is standard issue, many of the sounds just described are so loud that even the best-performing hearing protection isn’t enough.
What Can Veterans do to Deal With Hearing Loss?
Though hearing loss due to noise exposure is permanent, the impairment can be eased with hearing aids. The loss of high-pitch sound is the most common form of hearing loss among veterans and this kind of impairment can be managed with specialized hearing aids. Tinnitus is often a symptom of another health issue and although it can’t be cured, there are also treatment solutions for it.
In serving our country, veterans have already made lots of sacrifices. They shouldn’t have to sacrifice their hearing too.