When the men and women of our armed forces come home from service, they frequently suffer from emotional, physical, and mental hardships. While healthcare for veterans is an ongoing dialogue, 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 suffer from severe hearing impairment, even when age and occupation are taken into account. Hearing loss, related to military service, has been reported 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, on average, among the youngest former service members, are four times more likely than non-veterans to endure severe hearing impairment.
Why is The Risk of Hearing Impairment Greater For Service Personnel?
The answer is simple: Exposure to noise. Some professions are clearly noisier than others. For example, a librarian will be working in a rather quiet setting. Thet would likely be exposed to decibel levels ranging from a whisper (around 30 dB) to standard conversation (60 dB).
At the other end of the sonic spectrum, for civilians at least, let’s say you’re a construction worker, and you work on a job site that’s in the city. Background noises you would periodically hear, like the siren of an emergency vehicle (120dB), or constantly, like heavy city traffic, are hazardous to your hearing. Research has shown that construction equipment noise, everything from power tools to heavy loaders, exposes laborers to sounds louder than 85 dB.
Construction sites are undoubtedly loud, but individuals in the military are constantly exposed to noise that is a lot louder. In combat scenarios, troops are subjected to gunfire (150 dB), grenades (158 dB), and heavy artillery (180 dB). But military bases, whether overseas or at home, are none too 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 as well, with choppers on the low end (about 95-100 dB) and most jets and other aircraft going over 100 dB. Another concern: One study revealed that exposure to some kinds of jet fuel appears to cause hearing impairment by disrupting auditory processing.
Our service men and women don’t have the choice of opting out, as a 2015 study plainly demonstrates. They need to deal with noise exposure in order to 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 Treat Hearing Loss?
Noise related hearing loss can be reduced with hearing aids even though it can’t be cured. The most common kind of hearing loss amongst veterans is a decreased ability to hear high-pitch sounds, but this kind of hearing impairment can be remedied with specialized hearing aids. Tinnitus can’t be cured, but as it’s frequently a symptom of another issue, treatment solutions are also available.
In serving our country, veterans have already made many sacrifices. They shouldn’t have to sacrifice their hearing too.