The men and women who serve our country in uniform too often endure debilitating physical, mental, and emotional difficulties after their service has ended. Within the continuing dialogue about veteran’s healthcare, the most commonly diagnosed disability is often relatively ignored: Hearing loss and tinnitus.
Even if you take into account age and occupation, there’s a 30% higher chance of veterans having severe hearing impairment compared to non-veterans. Though service-related hearing loss has been recognized 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 generally among the younger group of service members and are also up to four times more likely to have hearing impairment than non-veterans.
Why Are Service Personnel at Greater Risk For Hearing Impairment?
The answer is simple: Exposure to noise. Sure, some vocations are noisier than others. Librarians, for instance, are normally in a more quiet environment. The sound level that they would normally 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 spectrum, such as a city construction worker, the hazard rises. Sounds you’d continuously hear (heavy traffic, about 85 dB) or sporadically (an ambulance siren’s around 120 dB) are at harmful levels, and that’s only background noise. Research has found that construction equipment noise, everything from power tools to bulldozers, exposes laborers to noises louder than 85 dB.
As loud as a heavy construction site is, active military personnel are constantly subjected to much louder sounds. In combat scenarios, troops are subjected to gunfire (150 dB), grenades (158 dB), and heavy artillery (180 dB). And it’s not quiet at military bases 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 very loud. Noise levels for pilots are high too, with choppers on the low end (around 95-100 dB) and the majority of jets and other aircraft going above 100 dB. Another worry: Certain jet fuels, according to one study, interrupt the auditory process triggering hearing impairment.
Our service men and women don’t have the choice of opting out, as a 2015 study plainly demonstrates. So that they can complete a mission or execute daily duties, they have to bear with noise exposure. And even the best performing, standard issue, hearing protection often isn’t enough to protect against some of these noises.
How Can Veterans Treat Hearing Loss?
Though hearing loss due to noise exposure is irreversible, the impairment can be reduced with hearing aids. The loss of high-pitch sound is the most common type of hearing impairment among veterans and this type of impairment can be treated 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.