When the men and women of our armed forces come home from service, they often suffer from physical, emotional, and mental difficulties. Within the continuing dialogue about veteran’s healthcare, the most frequently 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 civilians. Hearing loss, related to military service, has been documented at least back to World War 2, but it’s a lot more widespread in veterans who have served more recently. Recent veterans, who are also, on average, among the youngest former service members, are four times more likely than non-veterans to endure severe hearing impairment.
Why Are Service Personnel at Greater Risk For Hearing Loss?
Two words: Noise exposure. Sure, some vocations are louder than others. Librarians, for example, are normally in a more quiet setting. They’d most likely be exposed to decibel levels ranging from a whisper (about 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 danger increases. Sounds you’d continuously hear (city traffic, around 85 dB) or sporadically (an ambulance siren’s about 120 dB) are at unsafe 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. In combat scenarios, troops are exposed 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 very loud and the deck of an aircraft carrier can be as loud as 130 – 160 dB. Noise levels for pilots are high too, with choppers on the low end (around 95-100 dB) and most jets and other aircraft going over 100 dB. Another worry: Certain jet fuels, according to one study, disrupt the auditory process causing hearing impairment.
Our service men and women don’t have the choice of opting out, as a 2015 study plainly demonstrates. In order to complete a mission or execute day to day activities, they have to cope with noise exposure. And even though hearing protection is standard issue, many of the sounds just described are so loud that even the best-performing hearing protection isn’t enough.
What Can Veterans do to Treat Hearing Loss?
Noise induced hearing loss can be reduced with hearing aids even though it can’t be cured. The loss of high-pitch sound is the most common form of hearing loss 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 possibilities are also available.
In serving our country, veterans have already made many sacrifices. They shouldn’t have to sacrifice their hearing too.