The men and women who serve our country in uniform too often endure debilitating mental, physical, and emotional challenges after their service is finished. Within the continuing dialogue about veteran’s healthcare, the most commonly diagnosed disability is often relatively neglected: Hearing loss and tinnitus.
Veterans are 30% more likely than non-veterans to deal with severe hearing impairment, even when age and occupation are taken into account. Hearing loss, related to military service, has been recognized at least back to the second world war, but it’s far more prevalent in veterans who have served more recently. Recent veterans, who are also, generally, among the youngest former service members, are four times more likely than non-veterans to suffer from severe hearing impairment.
Why is The Risk of Hearing Impairment Greater For Service Personnel?
The answer is simple: Exposure to noise. Certainly, some occupations are louder than others. For instance, a librarian will be working in a relatively quiet setting. They’d likely be exposed to volumes ranging from a whisper (around 30 dB) to average conversation (60 dB).
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. Background noises you would periodically hear, like the siren of an emergency vehicle (120dB), or continuously, like heavy city traffic, are harmful to your hearing. Research has revealed that construction equipment noise, anything from power tools to heavy loaders, exposes laborers to sounds louder than 85 dB.
Construction sites are definitely loud, but individuals in the military are constantly exposed to noise that is much louder. In combat situations, troops are exposed to gunfire (150 dB), grenades (158 dB), and heavy artillery (180 dB). But military bases, whether at home or overseas, are not very quiet 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 pilots are high too, with helicopters on the low end (about 95-100 dB) and most jets and other aircraft going over 100 dB. Another worry: Certain jet fuels, according to one study, interrupt the auditory process triggering hearing impairment.
Our service men and women don’t have the choice of opting out, as a 2015 study clearly demonstrates. So that they can complete a mission or execute daily duties, they have to bear with noise exposure. And although hearing protection is standard issue, lots of the sounds just outlined are so loud that even the best-performing hearing protection is not enough.
What Can Veterans do to Address Hearing Loss?
Although hearing loss due to noise exposure is irreversible, the impairment can be reduced with hearing aids. The most prevalent kind of hearing loss among veterans is a weakened 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 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.