The men and women who serve our country in uniform too frequently endure incapacitating physical, mental, and emotional difficulties 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, related to military service, has been documented at least back to World War 2, but it’s far 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 up to four times more likely to have hearing loss than non-veterans.
Why is The Risk of Hearing Loss Greater For Veterans?
The answer is simple: Exposure to noise. Certainly, some vocations are noisier than others. For instance, a librarian will be working in a fairly quiet environment. They’d 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 spectrum, 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 periodically hear, like the siren of an emergency vehicle (120dB), or constantly, like heavy city traffic, are hazardous to your hearing. 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 definitely loud, but people in the military are constantly exposed to noise that is much louder. This is certainly true in combat settings, where troops hear sounds like gunfire (150 dB), hand grenades (158 dBA), and 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, sound levels are loud also, with choppers being well above 100 dB and jets and other planes also being well above 100 dB. Another worry: Certain jet fuels, according to one study, interrupt the auditory process triggering hearing impairment.
And as a 2015 study of hearing loss amongst military personnel aptly shows, for the men and women who serve our country, it’s not a choice, it’s a duty. They need to contend with noise exposure so that they accomplish missions and even everyday activities. And even though hearing protection is standard issue, lots of the sounds just described are so loud that even the best-performing hearing protection is not enough.
What Can Veterans do to Address Hearing Loss?
Noise induced hearing loss can be alleviated 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 treated with specialized hearing aids. Tinnitus can’t be cured, but as it’s frequently a symptom of another issue, treatment solutions are also available.
In serving our country, veterans have already made many sacrifices. They shouldn’t have to sacrifice their hearing too.