The men and women who serve our country in uniform too often cope with debilitating physical, mental, and emotional challenges after their service has ended. Within the continuing discussion about veteran’s healthcare, the most frequently diagnosed disability is often relatively ignored: Hearing loss and tinnitus.
Even if you factor in age and occupation, there’s a 30% higher chance of veterans having significant hearing impairment compared to civilians. Even though service-related hearing loss has been documented going back to World War 2, the numbers are even more dramatic for military personnel who served more recently. Veterans who have served recently are common among the younger group of service members and are also as much as four times more likely to have hearing impairment than non-veterans.
Why is The Risk of Hearing Loss Greater For Veterans?
The answer is simple: Exposure to noise. Sure, some vocations are noisier than others. For instance, a librarian will be working in a relatively quiet setting. They’d most likely be exposed to decibel levels ranging from a whisper (about 30 dB) to average conversation (60 dB).
For civilians who are at the other end of the sonic spectrum, like a city construction worker, the hazard rises. Sounds you’d constantly hear (heavy traffic, around 85 dB) or sporadically (an ambulance siren’s around 120 dB) are at unsafe levels, and that’s just background noise. Research has shown that construction equipment noise, anything from power tools to bulldozers, exposes workers to sounds louder than 85 dB.
As noisy as a heavy construction site is, active military personnel are constantly exposed to much louder noises. 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 at home or overseas, are none too quiet either. On the deck of an aircraft carrier, noise levels can range from 130-160 dB; engine rooms might be inside (and not have jets taking off), but they’re still incredibly loud. Noise levels for pilots are high too, with choppers on the low end (about 95-100 dB) and the majority of jets and other aircraft going above 100 dB. Another concern: Some jet fuels, according to one study, interrupt the auditory process causing hearing impairment.
And as a 2015 study of hearing loss among military personnel adeptly points out, for the men and women who serve our country, opting out is not an option. They need to deal with noise exposure in order to accomplish missions and even everyday activities. And even the best performing, standard issue, hearing protection frequently isn’t enough to protect against some of these noises.
How Can Veterans Treat Hearing Loss?
Though hearing loss due to noise exposure is irreversible, the impairment can be eased with hearing aids. The most common type of hearing loss amongst veterans is a decreased ability to hear high-frequency sounds, but this form of hearing loss can be remedied with specialized hearing aids. Tinnitus is often a symptom of another health issue and though it can’t be cured, there are also treatment solutions for it.
Veterans have already made many sacrifices in serving our country. They shouldn’t have to sacrifice their hearing too.