When the men and women of our armed forces return home from service, they frequently suffer from physical, emotional, and mental challenges. While healthcare for veterans is an ongoing dialogue, relatively little attention has been paid to the most common disabilities diagnosed in veterans: 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. Hearing loss, linked to military service, has been recognized at least back to World War 2, 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 deal with severe hearing impairment.
Why Are Service Personnel at Greater Risk For Hearing Loss?
Two words: Noise exposure. Some occupations are obviously noisier than others. Librarians, for example, are normally in a more quiet atmosphere. The sound level that they would normally be exposed to would be from 30dB (a whisper) to 60 dB (normal 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. Background noises you would sporadically hear, like the siren of an emergency vehicle (120dB), or continuously, like heavy city traffic, are hazardous to your hearing. Sounds louder than 85dB (from power tools to heavy machinery) are prevalent on construction sites according to research.
As noisy as a heavy construction site is, active military personnel are constantly exposed to much louder noises. In combat scenarios, troops are subjected to gunfire (150 dB), grenades (158 dB), and heavy artillery (180 dB). But military bases, whether overseas or at home, are none too quiet either. Indoor engine rooms are very loud and the deck of an aircraft carrier can be as loud as 130 – 160 dB. Noise levels for pilots are high too, with helicopters on the low end (around 95-100 dB) and most jets and other aircraft going over 100 dB. Another worry: One study found that exposure to some forms of jet fuel seems to cause hearing loss by interrupting auditory processing.
And as a 2015 study of hearing loss among military personnel aptly highlights, for the men and women who serve our country, opting out is not an option. In order to complete a mission or perform day to day tasks, they have to bear with noise exposure. And even the best performing, standard issue, hearing protection frequently isn’t enough to protect against some of these noises.
How Can Veterans Address Hearing Loss?
Noise induced hearing loss can be reduced with hearing aids even though it can’t be cured. The loss of high-frequency sound is the most prevalent type 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 possibilities are also available.
In serving our country, veterans have already made lots of sacrifices. Hearing shouldn’t have to be one of them.