When the men and women of our armed forces come home from service, they often suffer from physical, emotional, and mental hardships. While healthcare for veterans is an ongoing discussion, relatively little attention has been paid to the most prevalent disabilities diagnosed in veterans: 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 documented at least back to the second world war, but it’s far more widespread in veterans who have served more recently. Recent veterans, who are also, generally, among the youngest former service members, are four times more likely than non-veterans to suffer from severe hearing impairment.
Why is The Risk of Hearing Loss Greater For Service Personnel?
Two words: Exposure to noise. Certainly, some occupations are louder than others. Librarians, for instance, 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 (average conversation).
At the other end of the sonic spectrum, for civilians anyway, let’s say you’re a construction worker, and you’re on a job site that’s in the city. Background noises you would periodically hear, such as the siren of an emergency vehicle (120dB), or continuously, like heavy city traffic, are hazardous to your hearing. Noises louder than 85dB (from power tools to heavy equipment) are common on construction sites according to research.
Construction sites are undoubtedly loud, but people in the military are constantly exposed to noise that is far louder. This is certainly true in combat settings, where troops hear noises like gunfire (150 dB), hand grenades (158 dBA), and artillery (180 dB). And it’s not 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 as well, with helicopters being well above 100 dB and jets and other planes also being well above 100 dB. Another worry: Certain jet fuels, according to one study, interrupt the auditory process triggering hearing impairment.
And as a 2015 study of hearing loss among military personnel adeptly shows, for the men and women who serve our country, it’s not a choice, it’s a duty. In order to complete a mission or carry out day to day activities, they have to bear with noise exposure. And although hearing protection is standard issue, many of the sounds just outlined are so loud that even the best-performing hearing protection isn’t enough.
What Can Veterans do to Deal With Hearing Loss?
Noise induced hearing loss can be eased with hearing aids even though it can’t be cured. The loss of high-pitch sound is the most prevalent type of hearing loss among veterans and this kind of impairment can be managed with specialized hearing aids. Tinnitus can’t be cured, but as it’s often a symptom of another issue, treatment possibilities are also available.
In serving our country, veterans have already made lots of sacrifices. They shouldn’t have to sacrifice their hearing too.