The men and women who serve our country in uniform too frequently cope with incapacitating mental, physical, and emotional challenges after their service has ended. While healthcare for veterans is an ongoing dialogue, relatively little attention has been paid to the most common disabilities diagnosed in veterans: Tinnitus and hearing loss.
Even if you factor in age and occupation, there’s a 30% higher chance of veterans having severe hearing impairment compared to non-veterans. Hearing loss, linked to military service, has been documented at least back to World War 2, but it’s a lot more prevalent in veterans who have served more recently. Recent veterans, who are also, typically, 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. Certainly, some vocations are louder than others. Librarians, for instance, are usually in a more quiet environment. The volume of sound that they would normally be exposed to would be from 30dB (a whisper) to 60 dB (average conversation).
For civilians who are at the other end of the sonic scale, such as a city construction worker, the danger increases. Sounds you’d constantly hear (city traffic, about 85 dB) or sporadically (an ambulance siren’s about 120 dB) are at hazardous levels, and that’s just background noise. 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 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 may be inside (and no jets), but they’re still extremely loud. For aviators, noise levels are high as well, with choppers being well above 100 dB and jets and other planes also being well above 100 dB. Another concern: One study revealed that exposure to some kinds of jet fuel appears to cause hearing loss by interrupting auditory processing.
And as a 2015 study of hearing loss among military personnel aptly highlights, for the men and women who serve our country, opting out is not an option. They have to contend with noise exposure in order to complete missions and even daily activities. And although hearing protection is standard issue, many of the sounds just outlined are so loud that even the best-performing hearing protection is not enough.
What Can Veterans do to Address Hearing Loss?
Noise induced hearing loss can be alleviated with hearing aids even though it can’t be cured. The most prevalent kind of hearing loss among veterans is a decreased ability to hear high-frequency sounds, but this kind of hearing impairment can be remedied with specialized hearing aids. Tinnitus can’t be cured, but as it’s frequently a symptom of another issue, treatment options are also available.
Veterans have already made many sacrifices in serving our country. Hearing shouldn’t have to be one of them.