The men and women who serve our country in uniform too frequently endure debilitating physical, mental, and emotional difficulties after their service is finished. Within the continuing discussion concerning veteran’s healthcare, the most commonly diagnosed disability is often relatively ignored: Tinnitus and hearing loss.
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 reported at least back to World War 2, but it’s much more prevalent in veterans who have served more recently. Veterans who have served recently are generally 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: Noise exposure. Certainly, some vocations are louder than others. For example, a librarian will be working in a fairly quiet setting. The volume of sound that they would usually be exposed to would be from 30dB (a whisper) to 60 dB (average 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 sporadically hear, like the siren of an emergency vehicle (120dB), or continuously, like heavy city traffic, are hazardous to your hearing. Research has found that construction equipment noise, everything from power tools to bulldozers, exposes workers to noises louder than 85 dB.
Construction sites are definitely loud, but individuals in the military are constantly exposed to noise that is a lot louder. In combat settings, troops are subjected to gunfire (150 dB), grenades (158 dB), and heavy artillery (180 dB). And it isn’t quiet at military bases either. On the deck of an aircraft carrier, noise levels can range from 130-160 dB; engine rooms may be inside (and no jets), but they’re still incredibly loud. For pilots, sound levels are high as well, with helicopters being well over 100 dB and jets and other planes also being well above 100 dB. Another worry: Some jet fuels, according to one study, disrupt the auditory process triggering hearing impairment.
Our service men and women don’t have the option of opting out, as a 2015 study clearly demonstrates. They need to cope with noise exposure so that they complete missions and even everyday activities. 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 Treat Hearing Loss?
Noise related hearing loss can be eased with hearing aids even though it can’t be cured. The most common kind of hearing loss amongst veterans is a decreased ability to hear high-frequency sounds, but this kind of hearing impairment can be corrected 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. They shouldn’t have to sacrifice their hearing too.