The men and women who serve our country in uniform too frequently cope with debilitating physical, mental, and emotional challenges after their service is finished. Within the continuing discussion concerning veteran’s healthcare, the most frequently diagnosed disability is often relatively neglected: Tinnitus and hearing loss.
Even if you factor in age and occupation, there’s a 30% higher chance of veterans having significant hearing impairment compared to civilians. Hearing loss, linked to military service, has been reported at least back to the second world war, but it’s a lot more widespread in veterans who have served more recently. Veterans who have served recently are typically among the younger group of service members and are also as much as four times more likely to have hearing loss than non-veterans.
Why Are Service Personnel at Greater Risk For Hearing Loss?
Two words: Noise exposure. Sure, some occupations are louder than others. Librarians, for example, are normally in a more quiet environment. Thet would likely be exposed to decibel levels ranging from a whisper (about 30 dB) to normal conversation (60 dB).
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 constantly hear (city traffic, around 85 dB) or sporadically (an ambulance siren’s about 120 dB) are at hazardous levels, and that’s only background noise. Research has revealed that construction equipment noise, anything from power tools to heavy loaders, exposes laborers to sounds louder than 85 dB.
Construction sites are undoubtedly loud, but individuals in the military are regularly exposed to noise that is far louder. In combat situations, troops are exposed to gunfire (150 dB), grenades (158 dB), and heavy artillery (180 dB). And it isn’t quiet at military bases either. Indoor engine rooms are very loud and the deck of an aircraft carrier can be as loud as 130 – 160 dB. For aviators, noise levels are loud as well, with choppers being well above 100 dB and jets and other planes also being well over 100 dB. Another worry: Some jet fuels, according to one study, disrupt the auditory process causing hearing impairment.
Our service men and women don’t have the choice of opting out, as a 2015 study plainly demonstrates. They need to cope with noise exposure in order to complete missions and even daily activities. And even though hearing protection is standard issue, lots of the sounds just discussed are so loud that even the best-performing hearing protection isn’t enough.
What Can Veterans do to Deal With Hearing Loss?
Although hearing loss due to noise exposure is irreversible, the impairment can be eased with hearing aids. The loss of high-frequency sound is the most prevalent type 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 problem, treatment options are also available.
Veterans have already made countless sacrifices in serving our country. Hearing shouldn’t have to be one of them.