The men and women who serve our country in uniform too frequently suffer incapacitating mental, physical, and emotional challenges after their service is finished. Within the continuing discussion about veteran’s healthcare, the most frequently diagnosed disability is often relatively overlooked: Tinnitus and hearing loss.
Veterans are 30% more likely than civilians to suffer from severe hearing impairment, even when occupation and age are taken into account. 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, generally, 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 Loss?
Two words: Exposure to noise. Sure, some vocations are louder than others. For instance, a librarian will be working in a relatively quiet environment. Thet would most likely be exposed to decibel levels ranging from a whisper (around 30 dB) to normal conversation (60 dB).
At the other end of the sonic scale, 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 constantly hear (city traffic, about 85 dB) or periodically (an ambulance siren’s about 120 dB) are at hazardous levels, and that’s only background noise. Research has shown that construction equipment noise, anything from power tools to heavy loaders, exposes laborers to noises louder than 85 dB.
As noisy as a heavy construction site is, active military personnel are regularly exposed to much louder sounds. In combat scenarios, troops are subjected to gunfire (150 dB), grenades (158 dB), and heavy artillery (180 dB). But military bases, whether at home or overseas, are none too quiet either. Indoor engine rooms are really loud and the deck of an aircraft carrier can be as loud as 130 – 160 dB. Noise levels for pilots are high as well, with choppers on the low end (about 95-100 dB) and the majority of jets and other aircraft going above 100 dB. Another concern: Certain jet fuels, according to one study, interrupt the auditory process causing hearing impairment.
And as a 2015 study of hearing loss among military personnel adeptly highlights, for the men and women who serve our country, opting out is not an option. So that they can complete a mission or execute 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.
What Can Veterans do to Treat Hearing Loss?
Even though hearing loss due to noise exposure is permanent, the impairment can be eased with hearing aids. The loss of high-frequency sound is the most prevalent form of hearing impairment 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 problem, treatment options are also available.
Veterans have already made lots of sacrifices in serving our country. They shouldn’t have to sacrifice their hearing too.