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 discussion concerning veteran’s healthcare, the most commonly diagnosed disability is often relatively neglected: Hearing loss and tinnitus.
Veterans are 30% more likely than non-veterans to deal with significant hearing impairment, even when age and occupation are factored in. Even though service-related hearing loss has been documented going back to the second World War, the numbers are even more dramatic for military personnel who served more recently. Veterans who have served recently are typically among the younger group of service members and are also as much as four times more likely to have hearing loss than non-veterans.
Why is The Risk of Hearing Loss Greater For Service Personnel?
The answer is simple: Exposure to noise. Certainly, some occupations are noisier than others. Librarians, for example, are usually in a more quiet atmosphere. Thet would likely be exposed to volumes ranging from a whisper (about 30 dB) to average conversation (60 dB).
For civilians who are at the other end of the sonic scale, such as a city construction worker, the hazard increases. Sounds you’d constantly hear (heavy traffic, about 85 dB) or sporadically (an ambulance siren’s around 120 dB) are at hazardous levels, and that’s just background noise. Research has found that construction equipment noise, everything from power tools to heavy loaders, exposes workers to sounds louder than 85 dB.
Construction sites are definitely loud, but individuals in the military are constantly exposed to noise that is much louder. In combat settings, troops are exposed to gunfire (150 dB), grenades (158 dB), and heavy artillery (180 dB). But military bases, whether at home or overseas, are none too quiet either. Indoor engine rooms are very loud and the deck of an aircraft carrier can be as loud as 130 – 160 dB. For pilots, noise levels are high also, with helicopters being well above 100 dB and jets and other planes also being well above 100 dB. Another concern: Some jet fuels, according to one study, interrupt the auditory process causing hearing impairment.
Our service men and women don’t have the option of opting out, as a 2015 study plainly demonstrates. They need to deal with noise exposure so that they complete missions and even daily tasks. 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.
What Can Veterans do to Address Hearing Loss?
Even though hearing loss due to noise exposure is irreversible, the impairment can be reduced with hearing aids. The most prevalent kind of hearing loss amongst veterans is a decreased ability to hear high-pitch sounds, but this form 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 lots of sacrifices. Hearing shouldn’t have to be one of them.