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. Within the continuing dialogue concerning veteran’s healthcare, the most commonly diagnosed disability is often relatively ignored: 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 non-veterans. Hearing loss, linked to military service, has been documented at least back to World War 2, but it’s much more prevalent in veterans who have served more recently. Veterans who have served recently are generally 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 Service Personnel?
Two words: Exposure to noise. Sure, some vocations are noisier than others. As an example, a librarian will be working in a fairly quiet environment. The sound level that they would usually be exposed to would be from 30dB (a whisper) to 60 dB (normal conversation).
For civilians who are at the other end of the sonic spectrum, like a city construction worker, the danger rises. Sounds you’d constantly hear (heavy traffic, around 85 dB) or sporadically (an ambulance siren’s around 120 dB) are at harmful levels, and that’s just background noise. Noises louder than 85dB (from power tools to heavy machinery) are common on construction sites according to research.
As loud as a heavy construction site is, active military personnel are constantly subjected to much louder noises. This is definitely true in combat areas, where troops hear sounds 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, sound levels can range from 130-160 dB; engine rooms might be inside (and not have jets taking off), but they’re still very loud. For aviators, sound levels are loud also, with choppers being well above 100 dB and jets and other planes also being well above 100 dB. Another worry: One study revealed that exposure to some kinds of jet fuel appears to cause hearing loss by disrupting auditory processing.
Our service men and women don’t have the option of opting out, as a 2015 study plainly demonstrates. They have to cope with noise exposure so that they accomplish missions and even daily tasks. And even though hearing protection is standard issue, lots of the sounds just described are so loud that even the best-performing hearing protection is not enough.
What Can Veterans do to Address Hearing Loss?
Noise induced hearing loss can be eased 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 kind 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 solutions are also available.
Veterans have already made countless sacrifices in serving our country. Hearing shouldn’t have to be one of them.