The men and women who serve our country in uniform too frequently suffer incapacitating mental, physical, and emotional challenges after their service has ended. Within the continuing dialogue about veteran’s healthcare, the most frequently diagnosed disability is often relatively overlooked: Hearing loss and tinnitus.
Even if you factor in age and occupation, there’s a 30% higher chance of veterans having significant hearing impairment compared to non-veterans. Even though service-related hearing loss has been documented going back to the second World War, 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 Are Veterans at Greater Risk For Hearing Impairment?
Two words: Exposure to noise. Some occupations are clearly louder than others. Librarians, for instance, are usually in a more quiet environment. The sound level that they would usually be exposed to would be from 30dB (a whisper) to 60 dB (average conversation).
For civilians who are at the other end of the sonic scale, like a city construction worker, the hazard rises. 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. Sounds 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 constantly subjected to much louder sounds. In combat situations, 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 also, with choppers being well above 100 dB and jets and other planes also being well above 100 dB. Another concern: One study revealed that exposure to some forms of jet fuel seems to cause hearing loss by disrupting auditory processing.
Our service men and women don’t have the choice of opting out, as a 2015 study clearly demonstrates. They have to deal with noise exposure so that they accomplish missions and even daily 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 Deal With Hearing Loss?
Though hearing loss due to noise exposure is irreversible, the impairment can be eased with hearing aids. The most common kind of hearing loss amongst veterans is a diminished ability to hear high-frequency sounds, but this kind of hearing impairment can be corrected with specialized hearing aids. Tinnitus is frequently a symptom of another health problem and although it can’t be cured, there are also treatment options for it.
Veterans have already made countless sacrifices in serving our country. They shouldn’t have to sacrifice their hearing too.