The men and women who serve our country in uniform too often suffer incapacitating mental, physical, and emotional challenges after their service has ended. Within the continuing discussion concerning veteran’s healthcare, the most frequently diagnosed disability is often relatively neglected: Hearing loss and tinnitus.
Even if you factor in age and occupation, there’s a 30% higher chance of veterans having severe hearing impairment compared to non-veterans. Hearing loss, linked to military service, has been documented 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 deal with severe hearing impairment.
Why is The Risk of Hearing Impairment Greater For Service Personnel?
The answer is simple: Noise exposure. Certainly, some occupations are louder than others. Librarians, for example, are usually in a more quiet setting. Thet would likely be exposed to decibel levels ranging from a whisper (about 30 dB) to normal conversation (60 dB).
For civilians who are at the other end of the sonic scale, like an urban construction worker, the danger rises. Sounds you’d continuously hear (heavy traffic, about 85 dB) or periodically (an ambulance siren’s around 120 dB) are at unsafe levels, and that’s only background noise. Noises louder than 85dB (from power tools to heavy machinery) are common on construction sites according to research.
As loud as a heavy construction site is, active military personnel are constantly subjected to much louder noises. This is definitely true in combat settings, where troops hear sounds like gunfire (150 dB), hand grenades (158 dBA), and artillery (180 dB). But military bases, whether at home or overseas, are not very quiet either. Indoor engine rooms are very loud and the deck of an aircraft carrier can be as loud as 130 – 160 dB. For pilots, noise levels are loud as well, with choppers being well over 100 dB and jets and other planes also being well above 100 dB. Another worry: Certain jet fuels, according to one study, interrupt the auditory process triggering hearing impairment.
And as a 2015 study of hearing loss among military personnel aptly shows, for the men and women who serve our country, it’s not a choice, it’s a duty. They have to contend with noise exposure in order to accomplish missions and even everyday activities. And even though hearing protection is standard issue, many of the sounds just described are so loud that even the best-performing hearing protection isn’t enough.
What Can Veterans do to Treat Hearing Loss?
Noise related hearing loss can be eased with hearing aids even though it can’t be cured. The loss of high-frequency sound is the most common form of hearing impairment among veterans and this type of impairment can be treated with specialized hearing aids. Tinnitus is often a symptom of another health issue and although it can’t be cured, there are also treatment options for it.
Veterans have already made lots of sacrifices in serving our country. Hearing shouldn’t have to be one of them.