The men and women who serve our country in uniform too frequently cope with incapacitating mental, physical, and emotional difficulties after their service has ended. While healthcare for veterans is an ongoing discussion, relatively little attention has been paid to the most common disabilities diagnosed in veterans: Hearing loss and tinnitus.
Even if you factor in 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 documented at least back to the second world war, but it’s a lot more widespread in veterans who have served more recently. Recent veterans, who are also, typically, among the youngest former service members, are four times more likely than non-veterans to deal with severe hearing impairment.
Why is The Risk of Hearing Loss Greater For Service Personnel?
Two words: Noise exposure. Sure, some occupations are louder than others. As an example, a librarian will be working in a rather quiet setting. Thet would most likely be exposed to volumes ranging from a whisper (around 30 dB) to normal conversation (60 dB).
At the other end of the sonic scale, for civilians at least, let’s say you’re a construction worker, and you work on a job site that’s in the city. Sounds you’d constantly hear (city traffic, around 85 dB) or periodically (an ambulance siren’s about 120 dB) are at unsafe levels, and that’s only background noise. Research has found that construction equipment noise, everything from power tools to heavy loaders, exposes laborers to sounds louder than 85 dB.
Construction sites are undoubtedly loud, but people in the military are constantly exposed to noise that is much louder. This is certainly 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 not very quiet either. On the deck of an aircraft carrier, noise levels can range from 130-160 dB; engine rooms may be indoors (and not have jets taking off), but they’re still extremely loud. For aviators, 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: One study revealed that exposure to some types of jet fuel appears to cause hearing loss by disrupting auditory processing.
And as a 2015 study of hearing loss among military personnel aptly highlights, for the men and women who serve our country, opting out is not an option. In order to complete a mission or execute everyday activities, they have to cope 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 Deal With 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 can’t be cured, but as it’s frequently a symptom of another issue, treatment possibilities are also available.
Veterans have already made lots of sacrifices in serving our country. They shouldn’t have to sacrifice their hearing too.