The men and women who serve our country in uniform too often suffer debilitating mental, physical, and emotional challenges after their service is finished. Within the continuing discussion concerning veteran’s healthcare, the most frequently diagnosed disability is often relatively ignored: Tinnitus and hearing loss.
Even if you take into account age and occupation, there’s a 30% higher chance of veterans having significant hearing impairment compared to non-veterans. Hearing loss, related to military service, has been reported at least back to the second world war, but it’s far 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 up to four times more likely to have hearing loss than non-veterans.
Why is The Risk of Hearing Loss Greater For Service Personnel?
Two words: Noise exposure. Some vocations are obviously louder than others. For instance, a librarian will be working in a relatively quiet setting. Thet would likely be exposed to volumes ranging from a whisper (around 30 dB) to normal conversation (60 dB).
For civilians who are at the other end of the sonic spectrum, like an urban construction worker, the hazard rises. Sounds you’d constantly hear (heavy traffic, around 85 dB) or sporadically (an ambulance siren’s around 120 dB) are at unsafe levels, and that’s just background noise. Noises louder than 85dB (from power tools to heavy equipment) 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. In combat settings, troops are subjected to gunfire (150 dB), grenades (158 dB), and heavy artillery (180 dB). And it’s not quiet at military bases either. Indoor engine rooms are very loud and the deck of an aircraft carrier can be as loud as 130 – 160 dB. For pilots, sound levels are loud also, with helicopters being well over 100 dB and jets and other planes also being well above 100 dB. Another concern: Some jet fuels, according to one study, disrupt the auditory process triggering hearing impairment.
And as a 2015 study of hearing loss amongst military personnel adeptly highlights, for the men and women who serve our country, it’s not a choice, it’s a duty. So that they can complete a mission or perform everyday tasks, they have to cope with noise exposure. 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 Address Hearing Loss?
Though hearing loss due to noise exposure is permanent, the impairment can be eased with hearing aids. The most prevalent type of hearing loss among veterans is a decreased ability to hear high-frequency sounds, but this form of hearing loss can be remedied with specialized hearing aids. Tinnitus is often a symptom of another health issue and though it can’t be cured, there are also treatment solutions for it.
Veterans have already made countless sacrifices in serving our country. Hearing shouldn’t have to be one of them.