When the men and women of our armed forces come home from service, they frequently suffer from physical, emotional, and mental challenges. Within the continuing discussion concerning veteran’s healthcare, the most commonly diagnosed disability is often relatively ignored: Hearing loss and tinnitus.
Veterans are 30% more likely than non-veterans to deal with severe hearing impairment, even when occupation and age are factored in. Even though service-related hearing loss has been reported going back to World War 2, the numbers are even more stunning for military personnel who 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 loss than non-veterans.
Why Are Service Personnel at Greater Risk For Hearing Impairment?
Two words: Noise exposure. Sure, some occupations are noisier than others. For instance, a librarian will be working in a relatively quiet setting. They’d most likely be exposed to decibel levels ranging from a whisper (about 30 dB) to standard conversation (60 dB).
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 sporadically hear, such as the siren of an emergency vehicle (120dB), or continuously, like heavy city traffic, are hazardous to your hearing. Research has shown that construction equipment noise, anything from power tools to bulldozers, exposes laborers to sounds louder than 85 dB.
Construction sites are definitely loud, but people in the military are constantly exposed to noise that is far louder. This is definitely true in combat settings, where troops hear sounds like gunfire (150 dB), hand grenades (158 dBA), and artillery (180 dB). And it’s not quiet at military bases either. On the deck of an aircraft carrier, noise levels can range from 130-160 dB; engine rooms may be inside (and not have jets taking off), but they’re still extremely loud. Noise levels for aviators are high too, with choppers on the low end (around 95-100 dB) and most jets and other aircraft going above 100 dB. Another concern: Some jet fuels, according to one study, interrupt the auditory process causing hearing impairment.
Our service men and women don’t have the option of opting out, as a 2015 study clearly demonstrates. In order to complete a mission or execute daily duties, they have to bear with noise exposure. And even the best performing, standard issue, hearing protection often isn’t enough to protect against some of these noises.
How Can Veterans 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-frequency sound is the most common type 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 problem and though it can’t be cured, there are also treatment options for it.
In serving our country, veterans have already made lots of sacrifices. Hearing shouldn’t have to be one of them.