When the men and women of our armed forces come home from service, they frequently suffer from physical, emotional, and mental challenges. While healthcare for veterans is a continuing dialogue, relatively little attention has been paid to the most prevalent disabilities diagnosed in veterans: Hearing loss and tinnitus.
Even if you factor in age and occupation, there’s a 30% higher chance of veterans having significant hearing impairment compared to civilians. Hearing loss, linked to military service, has been documented at least back to the second world war, but it’s a lot more prevalent 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 suffer from severe hearing impairment.
Why is The Risk of Hearing Impairment Greater For Service Personnel?
The answer is simple: Exposure to noise. Sure, some occupations are noisier than others. For example, a librarian will be working in a rather quiet setting. The sound level that they would normally be exposed to would be from 30dB (a whisper) to 60 dB (average conversation).
For civilians who are at the other end of the sonic spectrum, such as a city construction worker, the hazard rises. 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 found that construction equipment noise, everything from power tools to heavy loaders, exposes workers to noises louder than 85 dB.
Construction sites are definitely loud, but people in the military are regularly exposed to noise that is much louder. In combat settings, troops are exposed to gunfire (150 dB), grenades (158 dB), and heavy artillery (180 dB). And it isn’t quiet at military bases either. On the deck of an aircraft carrier, noise levels can range from 130-160 dB; engine rooms might 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 found that exposure to some kinds of jet fuel appears to cause hearing impairment by disrupting auditory processing.
Our service men and women don’t have the option of opting out, as a 2015 study clearly demonstrates. They need to deal with noise exposure in order to complete missions and even daily activities. And even the best performing, standard issue, hearing protection frequently isn’t enough to protect against some of these noises.
How Can Veterans Deal With Hearing Loss?
Even though hearing loss due to noise exposure is irreversible, the impairment can be alleviated 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 problem, treatment solutions are also available.
In serving our country, veterans have already made many sacrifices. They shouldn’t have to sacrifice their hearing too.