The men and women who serve our country in uniform too often cope with incapacitating mental, physical, and emotional challenges after their service has ended. While healthcare for veterans is a continuing discussion, relatively little attention has been paid to the most prevalent disabilities diagnosed in veterans: Tinnitus and hearing loss.
Veterans are 30% more likely than civilians to deal with severe hearing impairment, even when age and occupation are factored in. Hearing loss, linked to military service, has been recognized at least back to World War 2, but it’s much more prevalent in veterans who have served more recently. Recent veterans, who are also, typically, among the youngest former service members, are four times more likely than non-veterans to endure severe hearing impairment.
Why Are Service Personnel at Greater Risk For Hearing Loss?
The answer is simple: Noise exposure. Sure, some vocations are louder than others. Librarians, for example, are normally in a more quiet environment. They’d likely be exposed to decibel levels ranging from a whisper (around 30 dB) to average conversation (60 dB).
For civilians who are at the other end of the sonic spectrum, such as a city construction worker, the hazard increases. 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 revealed 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 far 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 really loud and the deck of an aircraft carrier can be as loud as 130 – 160 dB. Noise levels for aviators are high too, 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, interrupt the auditory process causing hearing impairment.
Our service men and women don’t have the choice of opting out, as a 2015 study clearly demonstrates. They have to deal with noise exposure so that they accomplish missions and even day-to-day activities. And even the best performing, standard issue, hearing protection frequently isn’t enough to protect against some of these noises.
What Can Veterans do to Address Hearing Loss?
Noise induced hearing loss can be alleviated with hearing aids even though it can’t be cured. The most prevalent type of hearing loss amongst veterans is a diminished ability to hear high-frequency sounds, but this kind of hearing loss can be corrected with specialized hearing aids. Tinnitus is frequently a symptom of another health problem and though it can’t be cured, there are also treatment options for it.
In serving our country, veterans have already made lots of sacrifices. Hearing shouldn’t have to be one of them.