When the men and women of our armed forces return home from service, they often suffer from emotional, physical, and mental difficulties. While healthcare for veterans is a recurring discussion, relatively little attention has been paid to the most prevalent disabilities diagnosed in veterans: Tinnitus and hearing loss.
Veterans are 30% more likely than non-veterans to suffer from significant hearing impairment, even when age and occupation are taken into account. 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. 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 Are Service Personnel at Greater Risk For Hearing Loss?
Two words: Noise exposure. Some occupations are clearly louder than others. For instance, a librarian will be working in a relatively quiet setting. The volume of sound that they would normally 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 an urban 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 hazardous to your hearing. Noises 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 constantly exposed to much louder sounds. In combat scenarios, troops are subjected to gunfire (150 dB), grenades (158 dB), and heavy artillery (180 dB). But military bases, whether at home or overseas, are none too quiet either. On the deck of an aircraft carrier, sound levels can range from 130-160 dB; engine rooms might be indoors (and no jets), but they’re still extremely loud. For pilots, sound levels are loud as well, 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, disrupt the auditory process causing hearing impairment.
And as a 2015 study of hearing loss amongst military personnel adeptly highlights, for the men and women who serve our country, opting out is not an option. So that they can complete a mission or perform day to day tasks, they have to bear with noise exposure. And even though hearing protection is standard issue, lots of the sounds just outlined are so loud that even the best-performing hearing protection isn’t enough.
How Can Veterans Treat Hearing Loss?
Noise related hearing loss can be alleviated with hearing aids even though it can’t be cured. The loss of high-frequency sound is the most common kind of hearing impairment among veterans and this type of impairment can be managed with specialized hearing aids. Tinnitus is often 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. Hearing shouldn’t have to be one of them.