The men and women who serve our country in uniform too frequently suffer debilitating physical, mental, and emotional difficulties after their service is finished. Within the continuing dialogue concerning veteran’s healthcare, the most frequently diagnosed disability is often relatively overlooked: Tinnitus and hearing loss.
Even if you factor in age and occupation, there’s a 30% higher chance of veterans having significant hearing impairment compared to civilians. Even though service-related hearing loss has been documented going back to World War 2, the numbers are even more stunning for military personnel who served more recently. Recent veterans, who are also, generally, among the youngest former service members, are four times more likely than non-veterans to suffer from severe hearing impairment.
Why Are Veterans at Greater Risk For Hearing Loss?
Two words: Exposure to noise. Some occupations are obviously noisier than others. For instance, a librarian will be working in a rather quiet setting. Thet would most likely be exposed to volumes ranging from a whisper (around 30 dB) to standard conversation (60 dB).
For civilians who are at the other end of the sonic spectrum, such as a city construction worker, the danger rises. Sounds you’d continuously hear (city traffic, about 85 dB) or periodically (an ambulance siren’s around 120 dB) are at harmful levels, and that’s only background noise. Sounds 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 exposed to much louder noises. In combat situations, troops are subjected 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. Indoor engine rooms are really loud and the deck of an aircraft carrier can be as loud as 130 – 160 dB. Noise levels for pilots are high as well, with choppers on the low end (around 95-100 dB) and the majority of jets and other aircraft going over 100 dB. Another concern: One study found that exposure to some types of jet fuel seems to cause hearing impairment by disrupting auditory processing.
And as a 2015 study of hearing loss amongst military personnel aptly points out, for the men and women who serve our country, opting out is not an option. They have to deal with noise exposure so that they accomplish missions and even day-to-day 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 eased with hearing aids even though it can’t be cured. The loss of high-frequency sound is the most common kind of hearing impairment among veterans and this type of impairment can be managed with specialized hearing aids. Tinnitus is frequently a symptom of another health problem and though it can’t be cured, there are also treatment options for it.
Veterans have already made lots of sacrifices in serving our country. Hearing shouldn’t have to be one of them.