When the men and women of our armed forces return home from service, they often suffer from emotional, physical, and mental problems. While healthcare for veterans is an ongoing dialogue, relatively little attention has been paid to the most common disabilities diagnosed in veterans: Tinnitus and hearing loss.
Even if you take into account age and occupation, there’s a 30% higher chance of veterans having severe hearing impairment compared to non-veterans. Though service-related hearing loss has been reported going back to World War 2, the numbers are even more dramatic for military personnel who served more recently. Veterans who have served recently are commonly among the younger group of service members and are also up to four times more likely to have hearing impairment than non-veterans.
Why is The Risk of Hearing Impairment Greater For Service Personnel?
Two words: Noise exposure. Some vocations are obviously noisier than others. For example, 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 standard conversation (60 dB).
For civilians who are at the other end of the sonic spectrum, such as a city construction worker, the danger increases. Sounds you’d constantly hear (heavy traffic, about 85 dB) or sporadically (an ambulance siren’s about 120 dB) are at unsafe levels, and that’s only background noise. Research has shown that construction equipment noise, everything from power tools to heavy loaders, exposes workers to sounds louder than 85 dB.
As loud as a heavy construction site is, active military personnel are regularly subjected to much louder noises. In combat situations, troops are subjected to gunfire (150 dB), grenades (158 dB), and heavy artillery (180 dB). And it isn’t quiet at military bases 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 too, with helicopters being well over 100 dB and jets and other planes also being well above 100 dB. Another concern: Some jet fuels, according to one study, disrupt the auditory process triggering hearing impairment.
Our service men and women don’t have the choice of opting out, as a 2015 study plainly demonstrates. They need to cope with noise exposure in order to accomplish missions and even everyday activities. 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 Treat Hearing Loss?
Noise related hearing loss can be alleviated with hearing aids even though it can’t be cured. The most common type of hearing loss among veterans is a weakened ability to hear high-frequency sounds, but this type of hearing loss can be remedied with specialized hearing aids. Tinnitus can’t be cured, but as it’s often a symptom of another problem, treatment options are also available.
In serving our country, veterans have already made many sacrifices. They shouldn’t have to sacrifice their hearing too.