When the men and women of our armed forces come home from service, they often suffer from emotional, physical, and mental difficulties. While healthcare for veterans is a recurring dialogue, relatively little attention has been paid to the most prevalent disabilities diagnosed in veterans: Tinnitus and hearing loss.
Even if you factor in age and occupation, there’s a 30% higher chance of veterans having severe hearing impairment compared to non-veterans. Though service-related hearing loss has been reported going back to the second World War, the numbers are even more stunning for military personnel who served more recently. Recent veterans, who are also, on average, among the youngest former service members, are four times more likely than non-veterans to endure severe hearing impairment.
Why is The Risk of Hearing Impairment Greater For Service Personnel?
The answer is simple: Exposure to noise. Sure, some vocations are louder than others. Librarians, for instance, are normally in a more quiet environment. The volume of sound 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, such as a city construction worker, the danger rises. Background noises you would periodically hear, like the siren of an emergency vehicle (120dB), or continuously, like heavy city traffic, are hazardous to your hearing. Research has found that construction equipment noise, everything from power tools to bulldozers, exposes laborers to noises louder than 85 dB.
As noisy as a heavy construction site is, active military personnel are regularly exposed to much louder noises. In combat settings, troops are exposed to gunfire (150 dB), grenades (158 dB), and heavy artillery (180 dB). And it’s not quiet at military bases either. On the deck of an aircraft carrier, sound levels can range from 130-160 dB; engine rooms might be inside (and not have jets taking off), but they’re still incredibly loud. Noise levels for pilots are high as well, with choppers on the low end (around 95-100 dB) and the majority of jets and other aircraft going over 100 dB. Another concern: One study found that exposure to some types of jet fuel appears to cause hearing impairment by disrupting auditory processing.
Our service men and women don’t have the option of opting out, as a 2015 study plainly demonstrates. So that they can complete a mission or execute day to day tasks, 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.
How Can Veterans Address 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 common type of hearing impairment 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 issue, treatment possibilities are also available.
In serving our country, veterans have already made many sacrifices. Hearing shouldn’t have to be one of them.