When the men and women of our armed forces come home from service, they frequently suffer from physical, emotional, and mental difficulties. Within the continuing dialogue about veteran’s healthcare, the most commonly diagnosed disability is often relatively ignored: 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. Hearing loss, linked to military service, has been recognized at least back to World War 2, but it’s much more prevalent in veterans who have served more recently. Veterans who have served recently are commonly among the younger group of service members and are also as much as four times more likely to have hearing impairment than non-veterans.
Why Are Veterans at Greater Risk For Hearing Impairment?
Two words: Noise exposure. Certainly, some occupations are noisier than others. For instance, a librarian will be working in a rather quiet environment. The volume of sound 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, like an urban construction worker, the hazard increases. Sounds you’d constantly hear (heavy traffic, around 85 dB) or periodically (an ambulance siren’s about 120 dB) are at unsafe levels, and that’s only background noise. Sounds louder than 85dB (from power tools to heavy equipment) are prevalent 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. On the deck of an aircraft carrier, sound levels can range from 130-160 dB; engine rooms may be inside (and no jets), but they’re still incredibly loud. For pilots, noise levels are high also, with choppers being well over 100 dB and jets and other planes also being well over 100 dB. Another worry: 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 adeptly points out, for the men and women who serve our country, opting out is not an option. They need to contend with noise exposure so that they accomplish missions and even daily tasks. And even the best performing, standard issue, hearing protection frequently isn’t enough to protect against some of these noises.
How Can Veterans Treat Hearing Loss?
Though hearing loss due to noise exposure is permanent, the impairment can be alleviated with hearing aids. The loss of high-frequency sound is the most common form of hearing impairment among veterans and this kind of impairment can be managed with specialized hearing aids. Tinnitus is frequently a symptom of another health issue and although it can’t be cured, there are also treatment options for it.
In serving our country, veterans have already made many sacrifices. Hearing shouldn’t have to be one of them.