When the men and women of our armed forces come home from service, they often suffer from physical, emotional, and mental difficulties. While healthcare for veterans is an ongoing discussion, relatively little attention has been paid to the most prevalent disabilities diagnosed in veterans: Hearing loss and tinnitus.
Even if you take into account age and occupation, there’s a 30% higher chance of veterans having significant hearing impairment compared to non-veterans. Even though service-related hearing loss has been documented going back to World War 2, the numbers are even more stunning for military personnel who served more recently. Recent veterans, who are also, typically, among the youngest former service members, are four times more likely than non-veterans to deal with severe hearing impairment.
Why is The Risk of Hearing Loss Greater For Veterans?
Two words: Exposure to noise. Some occupations are obviously noisier than others. For instance, a librarian will be working in a rather quiet setting. They’d likely be exposed to decibel levels ranging from a whisper (about 30 dB) to normal conversation (60 dB).
At the other end of the sonic scale, 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 periodically hear, such as the siren of an emergency vehicle (120dB), or constantly, like heavy city traffic, are harmful to your hearing. Research has shown that construction equipment noise, anything 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 constantly exposed to noise that is much louder. In combat settings, 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 very loud and the deck of an aircraft carrier can be as loud as 130 – 160 dB. For pilots, sound levels are loud too, with choppers being well above 100 dB and jets and other planes also being well over 100 dB. Another concern: Certain jet fuels, according to one study, disrupt the auditory process causing hearing impairment.
And as a 2015 study of hearing loss among military personnel aptly highlights, for the men and women who serve our country, it’s not a choice, it’s a duty. They have to contend with noise exposure so that they complete missions and even everyday activities. And although hearing protection is standard issue, many of the sounds just discussed are so loud that even the best-performing hearing protection isn’t enough.
How Can Veterans Deal With Hearing Loss?
Although hearing loss due to noise exposure is permanent, the impairment can be eased with hearing aids. The most common kind of hearing loss amongst veterans is a decreased ability to hear high-pitch sounds, but this form of hearing impairment can be corrected with specialized hearing aids. Tinnitus is often a symptom of another health problem and although it can’t be cured, there are also treatment options for it.
Veterans have already made many sacrifices in serving our country. Hearing shouldn’t have to be one of them.