When the men and women of our armed forces return home from service, they frequently suffer from physical, emotional, and mental problems. While healthcare for veterans is a recurring dialogue, relatively little attention has been paid to the most prevalent disabilities diagnosed in veterans: Hearing loss and tinnitus.
Even if you take into account age and occupation, there’s a 30% higher chance of veterans having significant hearing impairment compared to non-veterans. Hearing loss, related to military service, has been documented at least back to the second world war, but it’s far more widespread 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 endure severe hearing impairment.
Why Are Service Personnel at Greater Risk For Hearing Impairment?
Two words: Exposure to noise. Certainly, some occupations are noisier than others. As an example, a librarian will be working in a fairly quiet environment. The volume of sound that they would usually be exposed to would be from 30dB (a whisper) to 60 dB (standard conversation).
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, such as the siren of an emergency vehicle (120dB), or constantly, like heavy city traffic, are harmful to your hearing. Research has found that construction equipment noise, anything from power tools to bulldozers, exposes laborers to sounds louder than 85 dB.
As loud as a heavy construction site is, active military personnel are constantly exposed to much louder noises. In combat settings, 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. For pilots, sound levels are high too, with choppers being well above 100 dB and jets and other planes also being well over 100 dB. Another concern: Certain jet fuels, according to one study, disrupt the auditory process triggering hearing impairment.
And as a 2015 study of hearing loss among military personnel adeptly highlights, for the men and women who serve our country, opting out is not an option. They have to deal with noise exposure so that they accomplish missions and even everyday tasks. And even the best performing, standard issue, hearing protection often isn’t enough to protect against some of these noises.
What Can Veterans do to Deal With Hearing Loss?
Although hearing loss due to noise exposure is irreversible, the impairment can be alleviated with hearing aids. The loss of high-pitch sound is the most prevalent type of hearing loss among veterans and this type of impairment can be treated with specialized hearing aids. Tinnitus can’t be cured, but as it’s frequently a symptom of another problem, treatment solutions are also available.
In serving our country, veterans have already made many sacrifices. Hearing shouldn’t have to be one of them.