The men and women who serve our country in uniform too frequently suffer debilitating mental, physical, and emotional difficulties after their service has ended. Within the continuing dialogue about veteran’s healthcare, the most frequently diagnosed disability is often relatively overlooked: Hearing loss and tinnitus.
Veterans are 30% more likely than civilians to deal with significant hearing impairment, even when age and occupation are taken into account. Hearing loss, related to military service, has been reported at least back to the second world war, but it’s far more widespread in veterans who have served more recently. Veterans who have served recently are typically among the younger group of service members and are also as much as four times more likely to have hearing loss than non-veterans.
Why is The Risk of Hearing Loss Greater For Service Personnel?
The answer is simple: Exposure to noise. Sure, some vocations are noisier than others. Librarians, for instance, are usually in a more quiet atmosphere. The volume of sound 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 scale, for civilians anyway, let’s say you’re a construction worker, and you’re on a job site that’s in the city. Sounds you’d continuously hear (city traffic, around 85 dB) or sporadically (an ambulance siren’s around 120 dB) are at harmful levels, and that’s only background noise. Sounds louder than 85dB (from power tools to heavy equipment) are prevalent on construction sites according to research.
Construction sites are undoubtedly loud, but people in the military are regularly exposed to noise that is far louder. This is certainly true in combat areas, where troops hear noises like gunfire (150 dB), hand grenades (158 dBA), and artillery (180 dB). But military bases, whether overseas or at home, are none too quiet 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 very loud. Noise levels for pilots are high as well, with choppers on the low end (around 95-100 dB) and most jets and other aircraft going above 100 dB. Another worry: Some jet fuels, according to one study, disrupt the auditory process causing hearing impairment.
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 deal with noise exposure. 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 Address Hearing Loss?
Noise induced hearing loss can be reduced with hearing aids even though it can’t be cured. The most prevalent kind of hearing loss among veterans is a weakened ability to hear high-pitch sounds, but this form of hearing loss 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 lots of sacrifices in serving our country. Hearing shouldn’t have to be one of them.