The men and women who serve our country in uniform too often suffer debilitating mental, physical, and emotional challenges after their service is finished. Within the continuing dialogue concerning veteran’s healthcare, the most commonly diagnosed disability is often relatively ignored: Hearing loss and tinnitus.
Even if you take into account age and occupation, there’s a 30% higher chance of veterans having severe hearing impairment compared to non-veterans. Hearing loss, related to military service, has been reported at least back to World War 2, but it’s a lot more prevalent in veterans who have 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 impairment than non-veterans.
Why Are Veterans at Greater Risk For Hearing Loss?
The answer is simple: Noise exposure. Some occupations are obviously louder than others. Librarians, for instance, are normally in a more quiet atmosphere. The sound level that they would usually be exposed to would be from 30dB (a whisper) to 60 dB (average conversation).
At the other end of the sonic scale, for civilians anyway, let’s say you’re a construction worker, and you’re on a job site that’s in the city. Background noises you would periodically hear, like the siren of an emergency vehicle (120dB), or continuously, like heavy city traffic, are hazardous to your hearing. Research has shown that construction equipment noise, everything from power tools to bulldozers, exposes workers to noises louder than 85 dB.
As noisy as a heavy construction site is, active military personnel are constantly subjected to much louder noises. In combat scenarios, troops are subjected to gunfire (150 dB), grenades (158 dB), and heavy artillery (180 dB). And it isn’t quiet at military bases 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 too, with choppers on the low end (about 95-100 dB) and the majority of jets and other aircraft going 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 choice of opting out, as a 2015 study clearly demonstrates. So that they can complete a mission or carry out daily activities, they have to deal with noise exposure. And even the best performing, standard issue, hearing protection often isn’t enough to protect against some of these noises.
How Can Veterans Address Hearing Loss?
Noise related hearing loss can be reduced with hearing aids even though it can’t be cured. The loss of high-pitch sound is the most common form of hearing impairment among veterans and this kind of impairment can be treated with specialized hearing aids. Tinnitus can’t be cured, but as it’s often a symptom of another issue, treatment options are also available.
In serving our country, veterans have already made many sacrifices. They shouldn’t have to sacrifice their hearing too.