The men and women who serve our country in uniform too often suffer debilitating mental, physical, and emotional challenges after their service has ended. Within the continuing dialogue concerning veteran’s healthcare, the most frequently diagnosed disability is often relatively neglected: Hearing loss and tinnitus.
Veterans are 30% more likely than non-veterans to suffer from significant hearing impairment, even when occupation and age are factored in. Even though service-related hearing loss has been reported 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 typically among the younger group of service members and are also up to four times more likely to have hearing impairment than non-veterans.
Why Are Veterans at Greater Risk For Hearing Loss?
The answer is simple: Exposure to noise. Certainly, some occupations are noisier than others. As an example, a librarian will be working in a fairly quiet environment. They’d most likely be exposed to volumes ranging from a whisper (around 30 dB) to standard conversation (60 dB).
At the other end of the sonic scale, for civilians anyway, let’s say you’re a construction worker, and you work 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 harmful to your hearing. Research has shown that construction equipment noise, anything from power tools to bulldozers, exposes laborers to sounds louder than 85 dB.
As loud as a heavy construction site is, active military personnel are regularly subjected to much louder noises. In combat situations, 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. 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 helicopters on the low end (about 95-100 dB) and the majority of jets and other aircraft going above 100 dB. Another worry: One study found that exposure to some kinds of jet fuel appears to cause hearing loss by interrupting auditory processing.
Our service men and women don’t have the option of opting out, as a 2015 study plainly demonstrates. They have to deal with noise exposure so that they complete missions and even day-to-day tasks. 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 Deal With Hearing Loss?
Although hearing loss due to noise exposure is permanent, the impairment can be eased with hearing aids. The most common type of hearing loss amongst veterans is a weakened ability to hear high-pitch sounds, but this type of hearing impairment can be corrected with specialized hearing aids. Tinnitus is frequently a symptom of another health issue and though it can’t be cured, there are also treatment solutions for it.
In serving our country, veterans have already made lots of sacrifices. They shouldn’t have to sacrifice their hearing too.