When the men and women of our armed forces come home from service, they often suffer from emotional, physical, and mental challenges. Within the continuing discussion concerning veteran’s healthcare, the most commonly diagnosed disability is often relatively disregarded: 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 non-veterans. Even though service-related hearing loss has been reported 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 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 Loss Greater For Veterans?
Two words: Exposure to noise. Certainly, some occupations are louder than others. For instance, a librarian will be working in a fairly quiet setting. The volume of sound that they would usually be exposed to would be from 30dB (a whisper) to 60 dB (standard 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 unsafe levels, and that’s just background noise. Research has shown that construction equipment noise, everything from power tools to heavy loaders, exposes workers to noises louder than 85 dB.
As noisy as a heavy construction site is, active military personnel are constantly exposed to much louder noises. This is certainly true in combat settings, where troops hear noises like gunfire (150 dB), hand grenades (158 dBA), and artillery (180 dB). But military bases, whether at home or overseas, are not very quiet either. On the deck of an aircraft carrier, noise levels can go from 130-160 dB; engine rooms may be indoors (and not have jets taking off), but they’re still very loud. Noise levels for aviators are high as well, with helicopters on the low end (around 95-100 dB) and the majority of jets and other aircraft going above 100 dB. Another concern: Certain jet fuels, according to one study, interrupt the auditory process causing hearing impairment.
Our service men and women don’t have the choice of opting out, as a 2015 study clearly demonstrates. They have to cope with noise exposure in order to complete missions and even daily activities. And although hearing protection is standard issue, lots of the sounds just discussed are so loud that even the best-performing hearing protection isn’t enough.
What Can Veterans do to Deal With Hearing Loss?
Even though hearing loss due to noise exposure is permanent, the impairment can be reduced with hearing aids. The most common type of hearing loss among veterans is a weakened ability to hear high-frequency sounds, but this type of hearing loss can be remedied 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 countless sacrifices in serving our country. Hearing shouldn’t have to be one of them.