The men and women who serve our country in uniform too frequently endure incapacitating mental, physical, and emotional difficulties after their service is finished. While healthcare for veterans is a recurring dialogue, relatively little attention has been paid to the most prevalent disabilities diagnosed in veterans: Hearing loss and tinnitus.
Veterans are 30% more likely than civilians to deal with severe hearing impairment, even when occupation and age are taken into account. Hearing loss, related to military service, has been reported at least back to the second world war, but it’s a lot more widespread in veterans who have served more recently. Veterans who have served recently are typically 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 Impairment Greater For Veterans?
Two words: Exposure to noise. Some occupations are obviously louder than others. Librarians, for example, are normally in a more quiet atmosphere. Thet would likely be exposed to decibel levels ranging from a whisper (about 30 dB) to normal conversation (60 dB).
At the other end of the sonic spectrum, for civilians anyway, let’s say you’re a construction worker, and you’re on a job site that’s in the city. Background noises you would periodically hear, like the siren of an emergency vehicle (120dB), or continuously, like heavy city traffic, are harmful to your hearing. Noises louder than 85dB (from power tools to heavy machinery) are common on construction sites according to research.
As noisy as a heavy construction site is, active military personnel are regularly exposed to much louder noises. This is certainly true in combat areas, where troops hear sounds like gunfire (150 dB), hand grenades (158 dBA), and artillery (180 dB). And it’s not quiet at military bases either. Indoor engine rooms are really loud and the deck of an aircraft carrier can be as loud as 130 – 160 dB. Noise levels for pilots are high as well, with choppers on the low end (around 95-100 dB) and the majority of jets and other aircraft going over 100 dB. Another worry: Certain jet fuels, according to one study, interrupt the auditory process causing hearing impairment.
Our service men and women don’t have the choice of opting out, as a 2015 study clearly demonstrates. They have to cope with noise exposure so that they accomplish missions and even day-to-day activities. And even the best performing, standard issue, hearing protection frequently isn’t enough to protect against some of these noises.
What Can Veterans do to Deal With Hearing Loss?
Noise induced hearing loss can be alleviated with hearing aids even though it can’t be cured. The most common kind of hearing loss amongst veterans is a diminished ability to hear high-pitch sounds, but this type of hearing impairment can be corrected 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. Hearing shouldn’t have to be one of them.