The men and women who serve our country in uniform too frequently suffer debilitating mental, physical, and emotional challenges after their service is finished. Within the continuing dialogue about veteran’s healthcare, the most frequently diagnosed disability is often relatively disregarded: Hearing loss and tinnitus.
Veterans are 30% more likely than non-veterans to suffer from significant hearing impairment, even when age and occupation are taken into account. Though service-related hearing loss has been reported going back to World War 2, the numbers are even more stunning for military personnel who served more recently. Veterans who have served recently are generally among the younger group of service members and are also up to four times more likely to have hearing impairment than non-veterans.
Why is The Risk of Hearing Loss Greater For Service Personnel?
The answer is simple: Noise exposure. Sure, some occupations are louder than others. For instance, a librarian will be working in a fairly quiet environment. The volume of sound that they would usually be exposed to would be from 30dB (a whisper) to 60 dB (normal 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. Sounds you’d continuously hear (city traffic, about 85 dB) or periodically (an ambulance siren’s about 120 dB) are at hazardous levels, and that’s just background noise. Noises louder than 85dB (from power tools to heavy machinery) are prevalent on construction sites according to research.
As loud as a heavy construction site is, active military personnel are constantly subjected to much louder sounds. In combat scenarios, troops are subjected 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. On the deck of an aircraft carrier, sound levels can range from 130-160 dB; engine rooms might be indoors (and no jets), but they’re still incredibly loud. For pilots, sound levels are loud too, with choppers being well over 100 dB and jets and other planes also being well over 100 dB. Another concern: One study revealed that exposure to some forms of jet fuel seems to cause hearing loss by disrupting auditory processing.
And as a 2015 study of hearing loss amongst military personnel aptly highlights, for the men and women who serve our country, opting out is not an option. They have to cope with noise exposure in order to accomplish missions and even day-to-day tasks. And although hearing protection is standard issue, lots of the sounds just described are so loud that even the best-performing hearing protection isn’t enough.
How Can Veterans Address Hearing Loss?
Though hearing loss due to noise exposure is permanent, the impairment can be eased with hearing aids. The loss of high-frequency sound is the most prevalent type of hearing loss among veterans and this type of impairment can be managed with specialized hearing aids. Tinnitus can’t be cured, but as it’s frequently a symptom of another issue, treatment possibilities are also available.
Veterans have already made countless sacrifices in serving our country. Hearing shouldn’t have to be one of them.