When the men and women of our armed forces return home from service, they frequently suffer from physical, emotional, and mental challenges. Within the continuing discussion about veteran’s healthcare, the most commonly diagnosed disability is often relatively ignored: Hearing loss and tinnitus.
Veterans are 30% more likely than non-veterans to deal with significant hearing impairment, even when age and occupation are factored in. Hearing loss, related to military service, has been recognized at least back to the second world war, but it’s a lot more widespread in veterans who have served more recently. Recent veterans, who are also, on average, among the youngest former service members, are four times more likely than non-veterans to endure severe hearing impairment.
Why is The Risk of Hearing Loss Greater For Veterans?
Two words: Exposure to noise. Certainly, some occupations are louder than others. Librarians, for example, are usually in a more quiet environment. The sound level that they would usually be exposed to would be from 30dB (a whisper) to 60 dB (standard conversation).
For civilians who are at the other end of the sonic spectrum, such as an urban 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 equipment) are prevalent on construction sites according to research.
As noisy as a heavy construction site is, active military personnel are regularly exposed to much louder noises. This is certainly true in combat areas, where troops hear noises like gunfire (150 dB), hand grenades (158 dBA), and artillery (180 dB). And it isn’t quiet at military bases either. On the deck of an aircraft carrier, sound levels can range from 130-160 dB; engine rooms may be indoors (and no jets), but they’re still extremely loud. For pilots, sound levels are high as well, with choppers being well above 100 dB and jets and other planes also being well above 100 dB. Another concern: One study revealed that exposure to some forms of jet fuel appears to cause hearing impairment by interrupting 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 need to deal with noise exposure in order to accomplish missions and even everyday tasks. And even the best performing, standard issue, hearing protection frequently isn’t enough to protect against some of these noises.
What Can Veterans do to Address Hearing Loss?
Though hearing loss due to noise exposure is irreversible, the impairment can be eased with hearing aids. The most common kind of hearing loss amongst veterans is a weakened ability to hear high-pitch sounds, but this kind of hearing loss can be corrected with specialized hearing aids. Tinnitus can’t be cured, but as it’s often a symptom of another problem, treatment possibilities are also available.
Veterans have already made many sacrifices in serving our country. Hearing shouldn’t have to be one of them.