When the men and women of our armed forces come 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 severe hearing impairment compared to non-veterans. Even though service-related hearing loss has been documented going back to the second World War, the numbers are even more stunning for military personnel who 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 Are Service Personnel at Greater Risk For Hearing Impairment?
Two words: Exposure to noise. Some occupations are clearly noisier than others. For example, a librarian will be working in a relatively quiet environment. The volume of sound that they would normally be exposed to would be from 30dB (a whisper) to 60 dB (normal conversation).
At the other end of the sonic spectrum, for civilians at least, let’s say you’re a construction worker, and you’re on a job site that’s in the city. Sounds you’d continuously hear (heavy traffic, around 85 dB) or sporadically (an ambulance siren’s around 120 dB) are at unsafe levels, and that’s only background noise. Noises louder than 85dB (from power tools to heavy equipment) are prevalent on construction sites according to research.
Construction sites are undoubtedly loud, but people in the military are constantly exposed to noise that is a lot louder. In combat scenarios, troops are subjected to gunfire (150 dB), grenades (158 dB), and heavy artillery (180 dB). But military bases, whether overseas or at home, are none too quiet either. On the deck of an aircraft carrier, sound levels can go from 130-160 dB; engine rooms might be indoors (and no jets), but they’re still extremely loud. Noise levels for aviators are high too, with choppers on the low end (about 95-100 dB) and most jets and other aircraft going over 100 dB. Another concern: Some jet fuels, according to one study, disrupt the auditory process causing hearing impairment.
And as a 2015 study of hearing loss amongst military personnel aptly highlights, for the men and women who serve our country, it’s not a choice, it’s a duty. In order to complete a mission or execute day to day activities, they have to bear with noise exposure. And although hearing protection is standard issue, lots of the sounds just discussed are so loud that even the best-performing hearing protection isn’t enough.
How Can Veterans Treat Hearing Loss?
Noise related 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 weakened ability to hear high-frequency sounds, but this type of hearing impairment can be corrected with specialized hearing aids. Tinnitus is frequently a symptom of another health issue and though it can’t be cured, there are also treatment options for it.
Veterans have already made many sacrifices in serving our country. They shouldn’t have to sacrifice their hearing too.