The men and women who serve our country in uniform too often cope with incapacitating mental, physical, and emotional challenges after their service has ended. 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 civilians to deal with severe hearing impairment, even when age and occupation are factored in. Though service-related hearing loss has been documented going back to the second World War, the numbers are even more stunning for military personnel who served more recently. Veterans who have served recently are typically among the younger group of service members and are also as much as four times more likely to have hearing impairment than non-veterans.
Why is The Risk of Hearing Impairment Greater For Veterans?
The answer is simple: Exposure to noise. Certainly, some occupations are louder than others. For instance, a librarian will be working in a rather quiet setting. Thet would likely be exposed to decibel levels ranging from a whisper (around 30 dB) to standard conversation (60 dB).
For civilians who are at the other end of the sonic spectrum, such as a city construction worker, the hazard increases. Sounds you’d constantly hear (heavy traffic, about 85 dB) or sporadically (an ambulance siren’s around 120 dB) are at unsafe levels, and that’s just background noise. Sounds louder than 85dB (from power tools to heavy machinery) are prevalent on construction sites according to research.
As noisy as a heavy construction site is, active military personnel are constantly subjected to much louder sounds. In combat situations, 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. Indoor engine rooms are really loud and the deck of an aircraft carrier can be as loud as 130 – 160 dB. For aviators, sound levels are loud too, with choppers being well over 100 dB and jets and other planes also being well over 100 dB. Another worry: One study discovered that exposure to some types of jet fuel seems to cause hearing loss by interrupting auditory processing.
Our service men and women don’t have the choice of opting out, as a 2015 study clearly demonstrates. They need to contend with noise exposure so that they complete missions and even day-to-day activities. And even the best performing, standard issue, hearing protection frequently isn’t enough to protect against some of these noises.
How Can Veterans Address Hearing Loss?
Although hearing loss due to noise exposure is irreversible, the impairment can be eased with hearing aids. The loss of high-pitch sound is the most prevalent 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 often a symptom of another problem, treatment options are also available.
Veterans have already made many sacrifices in serving our country. They shouldn’t have to sacrifice their hearing too.