When the men and women of our armed forces return home from service, they often suffer from physical, emotional, and mental hardships. Within the continuing discussion concerning veteran’s healthcare, the most commonly diagnosed disability is often relatively disregarded: Tinnitus and hearing loss.
Veterans are 30% more likely than non-veterans to deal with severe hearing impairment, even when age and occupation are factored in. Hearing loss, linked to military service, has been reported at least back to World War 2, but it’s a lot more prevalent in veterans who have served more recently. Veterans who have served recently are commonly among the younger group of service members and are also up to four times more likely to have hearing impairment than non-veterans.
Why is The Risk of Hearing Loss Greater For Veterans?
Three words: Exposure to noise. Certainly, some vocations are louder than others. As an example, a librarian will be working in a rather quiet setting. The sound level that they would normally be exposed to would be from 30dB (a whisper) to 60 dB (average conversation).
At the other end of the sonic spectrum, for civilians anyway, let’s say you’re a construction worker, and you work on a job site that’s in the city. Background noises you would sporadically hear, such as the siren of an emergency vehicle (120dB), or constantly, like heavy city traffic, are hazardous to your hearing. Research has found that construction equipment noise, everything from power tools to bulldozers, exposes laborers to sounds louder than 85 dB.
As loud as a heavy construction site is, active military personnel are constantly exposed to much louder noises. In combat settings, troops are exposed to gunfire (150 dB), grenades (158 dB), and heavy artillery (180 dB). And it’s not quiet at military bases either. On the deck of an aircraft carrier, sound levels can range from 130-160 dB; engine rooms might be inside (and not have jets taking off), but they’re still incredibly loud. Noise levels for pilots are high as well, with helicopters on the low end (around 95-100 dB) and most jets and other aircraft going above 100 dB. Another concern: Some jet fuels, according to one study, disrupt the auditory process causing hearing impairment.
Our service men and women don’t have the option of opting out, as a 2015 study clearly demonstrates. They need to deal with noise exposure so that they complete missions and even daily tasks. And even the best performing, standard issue, hearing protection often isn’t enough to protect against some of these noises.
How Can Veterans Treat Hearing Loss?
Noise induced hearing loss can be alleviated with hearing aids even though it can’t be cured. The loss of high-pitch sound is the most common form 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 frequently a symptom of another issue, treatment solutions are also available.
Veterans have already made countless sacrifices in serving our country. Hearing shouldn’t have to be one of them.