The men and women who serve our country in uniform too often cope with incapacitating physical, mental, and emotional challenges after their service is finished. Within the continuing dialogue about veteran’s healthcare, the most frequently diagnosed disability is often relatively ignored: Hearing loss and tinnitus.
Veterans are 30% more likely than non-veterans to deal with significant hearing impairment, even when occupation and age are taken into account. Hearing loss, related to military service, has been recognized at least back to World War 2, but it’s a lot more prevalent in veterans who have served more recently. Veterans who have served recently are generally among the younger group of service members and are also up to four times more likely to have hearing loss than non-veterans.
Why is The Risk of Hearing Impairment Greater For Service Personnel?
Two words: Noise exposure. Some professions are obviously noisier than others. Librarians, for example, are usually in a more quiet setting. The sound level that they would usually be exposed to would be from 30dB (a whisper) to 60 dB (normal conversation).
For civilians who are at the other end of the sonic spectrum, such as an urban construction worker, the hazard rises. Sounds you’d continuously hear (city traffic, around 85 dB) or periodically (an ambulance siren’s about 120 dB) are at hazardous levels, and that’s just background noise. Noises louder than 85dB (from power tools to heavy machinery) are common on construction sites according to research.
As noisy as a heavy construction site is, active military personnel are regularly subjected to much louder noises. In combat settings, 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 very loud and the deck of an aircraft carrier can be as loud as 130 – 160 dB. For aviators, noise levels are loud as well, with helicopters being well over 100 dB and jets and other planes also being well above 100 dB. Another worry: One study discovered that exposure to some kinds of jet fuel seems to cause hearing impairment by interrupting auditory processing.
And as a 2015 study of hearing loss among military personnel aptly points out, for the men and women who serve our country, it’s not a choice, it’s a duty. They have to deal with noise exposure in order to 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?
Though hearing loss due to noise exposure is permanent, the impairment can be reduced with hearing aids. The loss of high-pitch sound is the most common kind of hearing loss among veterans and this type of impairment can be managed with specialized hearing aids. Tinnitus can’t be cured, but as it’s frequently a symptom of another problem, treatment options are also available.
Veterans have already made many sacrifices in serving our country. Hearing shouldn’t have to be one of them.