The men and women who serve our country in uniform too often cope with incapacitating physical, mental, and emotional difficulties after their service is finished. While healthcare for veterans is a recurring discussion, relatively little attention has been paid to the most prevalent disabilities diagnosed in veterans: Hearing loss and tinnitus.
Even if you take into account age and occupation, there’s a 30% higher chance of veterans having severe hearing impairment compared to non-veterans. Hearing loss, linked to military service, has been recognized at least back to World War 2, but it’s a lot more prevalent in veterans who have served more recently. Veterans who have served recently are commonly among the younger group of service members and are also as much as 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. Sure, some vocations are louder than others. As an example, a librarian will be working in a fairly quiet environment. The sound level that they would usually be exposed to would be from 30dB (a whisper) to 60 dB (normal conversation).
At the other end of the sonic scale, for civilians at least, 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, such as the siren of an emergency vehicle (120dB), or continuously, like heavy city traffic, are harmful to your hearing. Noises louder than 85dB (from power tools to heavy equipment) are common on construction sites according to research.
Construction sites are definitely loud, but people in the military are regularly exposed to noise that is a lot 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 go from 130-160 dB; engine rooms may be inside (and not have jets taking off), but they’re still extremely loud. For pilots, noise levels are high too, with choppers being well above 100 dB and jets and other planes also being well above 100 dB. Another concern: One study found that exposure to some kinds of jet fuel appears to cause hearing impairment by interrupting auditory processing.
Our service men and women don’t have the choice of opting out, as a 2015 study plainly demonstrates. They need to contend with noise exposure in order to complete missions and even everyday tasks. And even the best performing, standard issue, hearing protection frequently isn’t enough to protect against some of these noises.
What Can Veterans do to Deal With Hearing Loss?
Though hearing loss due to noise exposure is permanent, the impairment can be eased with hearing aids. The loss of high-pitch sound is the most prevalent type of hearing loss among veterans and this type 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 options are also available.
Veterans have already made lots of sacrifices in serving our country. Hearing shouldn’t have to be one of them.