When the men and women of our armed forces return home from service, they often suffer from physical, emotional, and mental challenges. While healthcare for veterans is a continuing dialogue, relatively little attention has been paid to the most prevalent disabilities diagnosed in veterans: Hearing loss and tinnitus.
Veterans are 30% more likely than civilians to deal with severe hearing impairment, even when age and occupation are factored in. Though service-related hearing loss has been reported going back to the second World War, 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 as much as four times more likely to have hearing loss than non-veterans.
Why is The Risk of Hearing Loss Greater For Service Personnel?
Two words: Exposure to noise. Some occupations are obviously noisier than others. Librarians, for instance, are usually in a more quiet setting. The sound level that they would usually be exposed to would be from 30dB (a whisper) to 60 dB (standard conversation).
For civilians who are at the other end of the sonic spectrum, such as an urban construction worker, the danger increases. Background noises you would sporadically hear, such as the siren of an emergency vehicle (120dB), or constantly, 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 subjected to gunfire (150 dB), grenades (158 dB), and heavy 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 pilots, noise levels are loud too, with choppers being well over 100 dB and jets and other planes also being well 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 choice of opting out, as a 2015 study plainly demonstrates. They have to deal with noise exposure in order to accomplish missions and even everyday tasks. 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 Treat Hearing Loss?
Although hearing loss due to noise exposure is irreversible, the impairment can be eased with hearing aids. The most common kind of hearing loss amongst veterans is a diminished ability to hear high-pitch sounds, but this form of hearing loss can be remedied with specialized hearing aids. Tinnitus is frequently a symptom of another health issue and although it can’t be cured, there are also treatment solutions for it.
Veterans have already made lots of sacrifices in serving our country. They shouldn’t have to sacrifice their hearing too.