When the men and women of our armed forces come home from service, they frequently suffer from physical, emotional, and mental problems. While healthcare for veterans is a continuing dialogue, relatively little attention has been paid to the most prevalent disabilities diagnosed in veterans: Tinnitus and hearing loss.
Veterans are 30% more likely than non-veterans to suffer from significant hearing impairment, even when age and occupation are taken into account. Even though service-related hearing loss has been recognized going back to the second World War, 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 suffer from severe hearing impairment.
Why Are Service Personnel at Greater Risk For Hearing Loss?
Two words: Noise exposure. Some vocations are obviously louder than others. As an example, a librarian will be working in a rather quiet setting. They’d most 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 anyway, let’s say you’re a construction worker, and you work on a job site that’s in the city. Sounds you’d constantly hear (city traffic, about 85 dB) or sporadically (an ambulance siren’s around 120 dB) are at hazardous levels, and that’s only background noise. Research has revealed that construction equipment noise, anything from power tools to bulldozers, exposes workers to sounds louder than 85 dB.
Construction sites are definitely loud, but people in the military are regularly exposed to noise that is a lot louder. In combat situations, troops are subjected to gunfire (150 dB), grenades (158 dB), and heavy artillery (180 dB). And it’s not quiet at military bases either. On the deck of an aircraft carrier, sound levels can range from 130-160 dB; engine rooms might be inside (and no jets), but they’re still incredibly loud. For pilots, sound levels are loud as well, with helicopters being well over 100 dB and jets and other planes also being well above 100 dB. Another concern: One study discovered that exposure to some types of jet fuel seems to cause hearing loss by disrupting auditory processing.
Our service men and women don’t have the choice of opting out, as a 2015 study plainly demonstrates. So that they can complete a mission or carry out daily activities, they have to cope with noise exposure. And even the best performing, standard issue, hearing protection often isn’t enough to protect against some of these noises.
How Can Veterans Address Hearing Loss?
Noise related hearing loss can be alleviated with hearing aids even though it can’t be cured. The most common kind of hearing loss among veterans is a diminished ability to hear high-frequency sounds, but this form of hearing impairment can be remedied with specialized hearing aids. Tinnitus is frequently a symptom of another health issue and although it can’t be cured, there are also treatment solutions for it.
Veterans have already made countless sacrifices in serving our country. Hearing shouldn’t have to be one of them.