When the men and women of our armed forces return home from service, they often suffer from physical, emotional, and mental problems. While healthcare for veterans is a continuing dialogue, relatively little attention has been paid to the most prevalent disabilities diagnosed in veterans: Tinnitus and hearing loss.
Veterans are 30% more likely than non-veterans to deal with significant hearing impairment, even when occupation and age are factored in. Hearing loss, related to military service, has been recognized at least back to World War 2, but it’s a lot more widespread 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 deal with severe hearing impairment.
Why is The Risk of Hearing Impairment Greater For Veterans?
The answer is simple: Noise exposure. Certainly, some vocations are louder than others. Librarians, for instance, are usually in a more quiet atmosphere. The sound level that they would usually be exposed to would be from 30dB (a whisper) to 60 dB (standard conversation).
At the other end of the sonic scale, for civilians anyway, let’s say you’re a construction worker, and you’re on a job site that’s in the city. 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, everything 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 much louder. In combat situations, troops are subjected 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, noise levels can range from 130-160 dB; engine rooms may be indoors (and not have jets taking off), but they’re still extremely loud. Noise levels for aviators are high as well, with helicopters on the low end (about 95-100 dB) and most jets and other aircraft going above 100 dB. Another concern: One study revealed that exposure to some kinds of jet fuel seems to cause hearing impairment by disrupting auditory processing.
And as a 2015 study of hearing loss amongst military personnel aptly points out, 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 duties, they have to bear with noise exposure. And although hearing protection is standard issue, many of the sounds just outlined are so loud that even the best-performing hearing protection isn’t enough.
How Can Veterans Deal With Hearing Loss?
Noise related hearing loss can be eased with hearing aids even though it can’t be cured. The loss of high-pitch sound is the most prevalent kind of hearing loss among veterans and this type of impairment can be managed with specialized hearing aids. Tinnitus is frequently a symptom of another health problem and although it can’t be cured, there are also treatment options for it.
In serving our country, veterans have already made many sacrifices. They shouldn’t have to sacrifice their hearing too.