When the men and women of our armed forces return home from service, they frequently suffer from physical, emotional, and mental problems. While healthcare for veterans is an ongoing dialogue, relatively little attention has been paid to the most prevalent disabilities diagnosed in veterans: Hearing loss and tinnitus.
Even if you take into account age and occupation, there’s a 30% higher chance of veterans having significant hearing impairment compared to civilians. Hearing loss, linked to military service, has been reported at least back to the second world war, but it’s much more prevalent 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 Are Veterans at Greater Risk For Hearing Impairment?
The answer is simple: Exposure to noise. Some vocations are clearly louder than others. As an example, a librarian will be working in a fairly quiet setting. The sound level that they would usually be exposed to would be from 30dB (a whisper) to 60 dB (standard conversation).
For civilians who are at the other end of the sonic scale, like an urban construction worker, the danger rises. Sounds you’d continuously hear (heavy traffic, around 85 dB) or periodically (an ambulance siren’s about 120 dB) are at unsafe levels, and that’s just background noise. Noises louder than 85dB (from power tools to heavy equipment) are common on construction sites according to research.
As loud as a heavy construction site is, active military personnel are regularly exposed to much louder noises. This is definitely true in combat settings, where troops hear noises like gunfire (150 dB), hand grenades (158 dBA), and artillery (180 dB). But military bases, whether at home or overseas, are none too quiet either. On the deck of an aircraft carrier, noise levels can range from 130-160 dB; engine rooms may be inside (and no jets), but they’re still very loud. For pilots, noise levels are loud too, with choppers being well above 100 dB and jets and other planes also being well over 100 dB. Another concern: One study found that exposure to some forms of jet fuel seems to cause hearing loss by disrupting auditory processing.
And as a 2015 study of hearing loss among military personnel aptly shows, for the men and women who serve our country, opting out is not an option. So that they can complete a mission or carry out everyday activities, they have to deal with noise exposure. And although hearing protection is standard issue, lots of the sounds just discussed are so loud that even the best-performing hearing protection isn’t enough.
How Can Veterans Deal With Hearing Loss?
Even though hearing loss due to noise exposure is permanent, the impairment can be alleviated with hearing aids. The loss of high-pitch sound is the most common type of hearing impairment among veterans and this kind 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.
Veterans have already made many sacrifices in serving our country. They shouldn’t have to sacrifice their hearing too.