When the men and women of our armed forces return home from service, they frequently suffer from emotional, physical, and mental problems. Within the continuing discussion concerning veteran’s healthcare, the most commonly diagnosed disability is often relatively disregarded: Hearing loss and tinnitus.
Even if you take into account age and occupation, there’s a 30% higher chance of veterans having significant hearing impairment compared to non-veterans. Even though service-related hearing loss has been documented going back to World War 2, the numbers are even more stunning for military personnel who 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 Service Personnel?
The answer is simple: Exposure to noise. Certainly, some vocations are louder than others. For example, a librarian will be working in a relatively quiet environment. 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 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. Background noises you would periodically hear, such as the siren of an emergency vehicle (120dB), or constantly, like heavy city traffic, are harmful to your hearing. Noises louder than 85dB (from power tools to heavy equipment) are prevalent on construction sites according to research.
Construction sites are undoubtedly loud, but people in the military are constantly exposed to noise that is far louder. In combat scenarios, troops are exposed 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. On the deck of an aircraft carrier, sound levels can go from 130-160 dB; engine rooms may be inside (and not have jets taking off), but they’re still extremely loud. Noise levels for pilots are high too, with choppers on the low end (around 95-100 dB) and the majority of jets and other aircraft going over 100 dB. Another worry: One study found that exposure to some kinds of jet fuel appears to cause hearing impairment by disrupting auditory processing.
And as a 2015 study of hearing loss among military personnel aptly highlights, 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 carry out everyday tasks, they have to bear with noise exposure. And even though hearing protection is standard issue, lots of the sounds just described are so loud that even the best-performing hearing protection isn’t enough.
What Can Veterans do to Deal With Hearing Loss?
Noise induced hearing loss can be reduced with hearing aids even though it can’t be cured. The loss of high-frequency sound is the most common type of hearing impairment among veterans and this kind of impairment can be managed with specialized hearing aids. Tinnitus can’t be cured, but as it’s frequently a symptom of another issue, treatment options are also available.
In serving our country, veterans have already made many sacrifices. Hearing shouldn’t have to be one of them.