When the men and women of our armed forces return home from service, they often suffer from emotional, physical, and mental difficulties. Within the continuing discussion concerning veteran’s healthcare, the most frequently diagnosed disability is often relatively overlooked: Hearing loss and tinnitus.
Veterans are 30% more likely than civilians to deal with severe hearing impairment, even when age and occupation are factored in. Even though service-related hearing loss has been reported 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, on average, among the youngest former service members, are four times more likely than non-veterans to deal with severe hearing impairment.
Why Are Service Personnel at Greater Risk For Hearing Impairment?
The answer is simple: Noise exposure. Certainly, some occupations are louder than others. Librarians, for instance, are usually in a more quiet atmosphere. 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 spectrum, like a city construction worker, the hazard increases. Background noises you would sporadically hear, like the siren of an emergency vehicle (120dB), or continuously, like heavy city traffic, are hazardous to your hearing. Research has revealed that construction equipment noise, anything from power tools to heavy loaders, exposes workers to noises louder than 85 dB.
Construction sites are undoubtedly loud, but people in the military are regularly exposed to noise that is far louder. 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 overseas or at home, are none too quiet 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. For aviators, sound levels are loud too, with helicopters being well over 100 dB and jets and other planes also being well over 100 dB. Another concern: One study discovered that exposure to some kinds of jet fuel appears to cause hearing loss by disrupting auditory processing.
Our service men and women don’t have the option of opting out, as a 2015 study plainly demonstrates. So that they can complete a mission or perform daily activities, they have to bear with noise exposure. 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?
Though hearing loss due to noise exposure is permanent, the impairment can be alleviated with hearing aids. The loss of high-pitch sound is the most common form of hearing loss among veterans and this kind of impairment can be managed with specialized hearing aids. Tinnitus is frequently a symptom of another health issue and although it can’t be cured, there are also treatment solutions for it.
In serving our country, veterans have already made lots of sacrifices. Hearing shouldn’t have to be one of them.