The men and women who serve our country in uniform too frequently cope with debilitating physical, mental, and emotional difficulties after their service is finished. While healthcare for veterans is a recurring discussion, relatively little attention has been paid to the most common disabilities diagnosed in veterans: 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 civilians. Though service-related hearing loss has been documented going back to the second World War, the numbers are even more stunning for military personnel who 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 Veterans at Greater Risk For Hearing Loss?
The answer is simple: Exposure to noise. Sure, some occupations are noisier than others. Librarians, for instance, are usually in a more quiet atmosphere. 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 spectrum, for civilians at least, let’s say you’re a construction worker, and you’re on a job site that’s in the city. Background noises you would sporadically hear, such as the siren of an emergency vehicle (120dB), or constantly, like heavy city traffic, are hazardous to your hearing. Research has found that construction equipment noise, anything from power tools to bulldozers, exposes workers to noises louder than 85 dB.
As loud as a heavy construction site is, active military personnel are constantly subjected to much louder noises. 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 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 aviators are high too, with helicopters on the low end (about 95-100 dB) and most 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 amongst military personnel aptly highlights, for the men and women who serve our country, opting out is not an option. They have to contend with noise exposure so that they complete 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 induced hearing loss can be eased with hearing aids even though it can’t be cured. The most common type of hearing loss among veterans is a decreased ability to hear high-frequency sounds, but this form of hearing impairment can be remedied with specialized hearing aids. Tinnitus is frequently a symptom of another health issue and although it can’t be cured, there are also treatment solutions for it.
In serving our country, veterans have already made many sacrifices. Hearing shouldn’t have to be one of them.