When the men and women of our armed forces return home from service, they frequently suffer from physical, emotional, and mental challenges. 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.
Even if you take into account age and occupation, there’s a 30% higher chance of veterans having significant hearing impairment compared to civilians. Hearing loss, related to military service, has been recognized at least back to the second world war, but it’s much 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 suffer from severe hearing impairment.
Why is The Risk of Hearing Impairment Greater For Service Personnel?
The answer is simple: Exposure to noise. Some professions are clearly louder than others. As an example, a librarian will be working in a rather quiet setting. The volume of sound that they would usually be exposed to would be from 30dB (a whisper) to 60 dB (standard conversation).
For civilians who are at the other end of the sonic scale, like a city construction worker, the hazard increases. Sounds you’d continuously hear (city traffic, about 85 dB) or sporadically (an ambulance siren’s around 120 dB) are at unsafe levels, and that’s only background noise. Sounds louder than 85dB (from power tools to heavy machinery) are prevalent on construction sites according to research.
As loud as a heavy construction site is, active military personnel are regularly exposed to much louder sounds. This is certainly true in combat areas, where troops hear sounds like gunfire (150 dB), hand grenades (158 dBA), and artillery (180 dB). But military bases, whether at home or overseas, are not very quiet either. On the deck of an aircraft carrier, sound levels can range from 130-160 dB; engine rooms may be inside (and no jets), but they’re still very loud. For pilots, sound levels are high as well, with choppers being well over 100 dB and jets and other planes also being well above 100 dB. Another concern: One study revealed that exposure to some types of jet fuel appears to cause hearing loss by disrupting auditory processing.
And as a 2015 study of hearing loss amongst military personnel adeptly points out, for the men and women who serve our country, opting out is not an option. They need to cope with noise exposure in order to accomplish missions and even day-to-day activities. And although hearing protection is standard issue, lots of the sounds just discussed are so loud that even the best-performing hearing protection is not enough.
How Can Veterans Address Hearing Loss?
Noise related hearing loss can be reduced with hearing aids even though it can’t be cured. The loss of high-frequency sound is the most prevalent kind of hearing loss among veterans and this kind of impairment can be treated with specialized hearing aids. Tinnitus can’t be cured, but as it’s often a symptom of another issue, treatment possibilities are also available.
In serving our country, veterans have already made many sacrifices. Hearing shouldn’t have to be one of them.