When the men and women of our armed forces come home from service, they often suffer from emotional, physical, and mental hardships. While healthcare for veterans is a continuing discussion, relatively little attention has been paid to the most common disabilities diagnosed in veterans: 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. 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 commonly among the younger group of service members and are also as much as four times more likely to have hearing impairment than non-veterans.
Why is The Risk of Hearing Impairment Greater For Service Personnel?
Two words: Noise exposure. Some occupations are obviously noisier than others. For instance, a librarian will be working in a rather quiet setting. The sound level that they would usually be exposed to would be from 30dB (a whisper) to 60 dB (normal conversation).
At the other end of the sonic spectrum, for civilians at least, let’s say you’re a construction worker, and you’re on a job site that’s in the city. Sounds you’d continuously hear (city traffic, around 85 dB) or sporadically (an ambulance siren’s around 120 dB) are at harmful levels, and that’s just background noise. Sounds louder than 85dB (from power tools to heavy machinery) are prevalent on construction sites according to research.
As noisy as a heavy construction site is, active military personnel are constantly subjected 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 overseas or at home, are none too quiet either. On the deck of an aircraft carrier, sound levels can range from 130-160 dB; engine rooms may be indoors (and not have jets taking off), but they’re still very loud. For pilots, noise levels are high also, with choppers being well above 100 dB and jets and other planes also being well over 100 dB. Another concern: One study revealed that exposure to some kinds of jet fuel seems to cause hearing impairment by interrupting auditory processing.
Our service men and women don’t have the choice of opting out, as a 2015 study clearly demonstrates. They have to deal with noise exposure so that they complete missions and even everyday tasks. And even the best performing, standard issue, hearing protection often isn’t enough to protect against some of these noises.
How Can Veterans Treat Hearing Loss?
Though hearing loss due to noise exposure is permanent, the impairment can be alleviated with hearing aids. The most prevalent kind of hearing loss among veterans is a weakened ability to hear high-frequency sounds, but this kind of hearing impairment can be remedied with specialized hearing aids. Tinnitus can’t be cured, but as it’s often a symptom of another problem, treatment solutions are also available.
In serving our country, veterans have already made many sacrifices. Hearing shouldn’t have to be one of them.