The men and women who serve our country in uniform too frequently suffer incapacitating physical, mental, and emotional challenges after their service has ended. While healthcare for veterans is a recurring dialogue, relatively little attention has been paid to the most prevalent disabilities diagnosed in veterans: 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 civilians. Hearing loss, related to military service, has been recognized at least back to World War 2, but it’s much more widespread in veterans who have served more recently. Recent veterans, who are also, typically, among the youngest former service members, are four times more likely than non-veterans to endure severe hearing impairment.
Why Are Veterans at Greater Risk For Hearing Impairment?
Two words: Exposure to noise. Some occupations are obviously noisier than others. As an example, a librarian will be working in a rather quiet environment. 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 scale, such as a city construction worker, the danger increases. Sounds you’d constantly hear (heavy traffic, about 85 dB) or periodically (an ambulance siren’s around 120 dB) are at harmful levels, and that’s only background noise. Research has shown that construction equipment noise, anything from power tools to heavy loaders, exposes laborers to noises louder than 85 dB.
As loud as a heavy construction site is, active military personnel are regularly subjected to much louder sounds. This is definitely true in combat settings, where troops hear sounds like gunfire (150 dB), hand grenades (158 dBA), and artillery (180 dB). But military bases, whether at home or overseas, are not very quiet either. On the deck of an aircraft carrier, sound levels can go from 130-160 dB; engine rooms might be inside (and no jets), but they’re still very loud. For pilots, noise levels are high as well, with choppers being well above 100 dB and jets and other planes also being well above 100 dB. Another concern: Some jet fuels, according to one study, interrupt the auditory process causing hearing impairment.
And as a 2015 study of hearing loss amongst military personnel aptly highlights, for the men and women who serve our country, opting out is not an option. They need to cope with noise exposure so that they accomplish missions and even day-to-day activities. And even though hearing protection is standard issue, many of the sounds just outlined are so loud that even the best-performing hearing protection isn’t enough.
How Can Veterans Deal With Hearing Loss?
Noise related hearing loss can be eased with hearing aids even though it can’t be cured. The loss of high-pitch sound is the most prevalent type of hearing loss among veterans and this kind of impairment can be treated with specialized hearing aids. Tinnitus can’t be cured, but as it’s often a symptom of another issue, treatment options are also available.
Veterans have already made countless sacrifices in serving our country. Hearing shouldn’t have to be one of them.