When the men and women of our armed forces come home from service, they frequently suffer from physical, emotional, and mental hardships. While healthcare for veterans is an ongoing discussion, 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. Hearing loss, related to military service, has been recognized at least back to the second world war, but it’s a lot more prevalent 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?
Two words: Noise exposure. Some occupations are clearly noisier than others. Librarians, for instance, are normally in a more quiet atmosphere. The volume of sound that they would usually be exposed to would be from 30dB (a whisper) to 60 dB (average conversation).
For civilians who are at the other end of the sonic spectrum, like a city construction worker, the danger increases. Background noises you would periodically hear, such as the siren of an emergency vehicle (120dB), or constantly, like heavy city traffic, are harmful to your hearing. Noises louder than 85dB (from power tools to heavy machinery) are common on construction sites according to research.
As noisy as a heavy construction site is, active military personnel are constantly subjected to much louder noises. 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 none too quiet either. Indoor engine rooms are really loud and the deck of an aircraft carrier can be as loud as 130 – 160 dB. Noise levels for aviators are high as well, with helicopters on the low end (about 95-100 dB) and most jets and other aircraft going above 100 dB. Another concern: One study revealed that exposure to some kinds of jet fuel appears to cause hearing impairment by disrupting auditory processing.
And as a 2015 study of hearing loss amongst military personnel adeptly points out, for the men and women who serve our country, it’s not a choice, it’s a duty. They need to contend with noise exposure in order to 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?
Noise related hearing loss can be reduced with hearing aids even though it can’t be cured. The loss of high-frequency sound is the most prevalent form of hearing loss among veterans and this kind of impairment can be treated with specialized hearing aids. Tinnitus is often a symptom of another health issue and although it can’t be cured, there are also treatment options for it.
In serving our country, veterans have already made lots of sacrifices. They shouldn’t have to sacrifice their hearing too.