The men and women who serve our country in uniform too frequently cope with incapacitating physical, mental, and emotional difficulties after their service has ended. While healthcare for veterans is a continuing dialogue, relatively little attention has been paid to the most common disabilities diagnosed in veterans: Tinnitus and hearing loss.
Even if you take into account age and occupation, there’s a 30% higher chance of veterans having significant hearing impairment compared to non-veterans. 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, 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 Impairment Greater For Veterans?
The answer is simple: Noise exposure. Certainly, some occupations are noisier than others. Librarians, for instance, are normally in a more quiet setting. They’d likely be exposed to volumes ranging from a whisper (about 30 dB) to average conversation (60 dB).
At the other end of the sonic spectrum, for civilians anyway, let’s say you’re a construction worker, and you’re 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 about 120 dB) are at hazardous levels, and that’s only background noise. Research has shown that construction equipment noise, anything from power tools to bulldozers, exposes laborers to noises louder than 85 dB.
As loud as a heavy construction site is, active military personnel are regularly exposed to much louder sounds. In combat situations, troops are exposed to gunfire (150 dB), grenades (158 dB), and heavy artillery (180 dB). But military bases, whether at home or overseas, are not very quiet either. On the deck of an aircraft carrier, sound levels can go from 130-160 dB; engine rooms may be inside (and not have jets taking off), but they’re still incredibly loud. Noise levels for aviators are high as well, with helicopters on the low end (about 95-100 dB) and the majority of jets and other aircraft going over 100 dB. Another worry: One study revealed that exposure to some kinds of jet fuel appears to cause hearing impairment by interrupting auditory processing.
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 so that they accomplish missions and even daily tasks. And even the best performing, standard issue, hearing protection frequently isn’t enough to protect against some of these noises.
How Can Veterans Treat Hearing Loss?
Although hearing loss due to noise exposure is irreversible, the impairment can be alleviated with hearing aids. The most prevalent kind of hearing loss amongst veterans is a diminished ability to hear high-frequency sounds, but this form of hearing loss can be remedied with specialized hearing aids. Tinnitus is frequently 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.