When the men and women of our armed forces come home from service, they often suffer from emotional, physical, and mental challenges. Within the continuing discussion concerning veteran’s healthcare, the most commonly diagnosed disability is often relatively neglected: 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 recognized 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 loss than non-veterans.
Why is The Risk of Hearing Loss Greater For Service Personnel?
The answer is simple: Noise exposure. Some vocations are obviously noisier than others. Librarians, for instance, are usually in a more quiet atmosphere. The volume of sound that they would usually be exposed to would be from 30dB (a whisper) to 60 dB (normal conversation).
At the other end of the sonic spectrum, 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 continuously hear (heavy traffic, around 85 dB) or periodically (an ambulance siren’s about 120 dB) are at harmful levels, and that’s just 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 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). And it isn’t quiet at military bases either. On the deck of an aircraft carrier, noise levels can go from 130-160 dB; engine rooms might be inside (and no jets), but they’re still very loud. For pilots, sound levels are loud too, 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 types of jet fuel seems to cause hearing impairment 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 cope with noise exposure in order to accomplish missions and even daily activities. And even the best performing, standard issue, hearing protection often isn’t enough to protect against some of these noises.
How Can Veterans Address Hearing Loss?
Noise related hearing loss can be alleviated with hearing aids even though it can’t be cured. The most prevalent kind of hearing loss amongst veterans is a decreased ability to hear high-frequency sounds, but this type of hearing loss can be corrected with specialized hearing aids. Tinnitus is often a symptom of another health issue and though it can’t be cured, there are also treatment options for it.
Veterans have already made lots of sacrifices in serving our country. They shouldn’t have to sacrifice their hearing too.