The men and women who serve our country in uniform too often cope with 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: Hearing loss and tinnitus.
Veterans are 30% more likely than non-veterans to deal with significant hearing impairment, even when occupation and age are factored in. Hearing loss, linked to military service, has been documented at least back to the second world war, but it’s far 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 deal with severe hearing impairment.
Why is The Risk of Hearing Impairment Greater For Veterans?
Two words: Noise exposure. Some occupations are obviously louder than others. For instance, a librarian will be working in a rather quiet setting. Thet would most likely be exposed to volumes ranging from a whisper (around 30 dB) to standard conversation (60 dB).
At the other end of the sonic scale, for civilians anyway, let’s say you’re a construction worker, and you’re on a job site that’s in the city. Sounds you’d continuously hear (heavy traffic, around 85 dB) or periodically (an ambulance siren’s around 120 dB) are at unsafe levels, and that’s just background noise. Sounds louder than 85dB (from power tools to heavy machinery) are common on construction sites according to research.
As loud as a heavy construction site is, active military personnel are constantly exposed to much louder sounds. This is certainly true in combat areas, where troops hear noises like gunfire (150 dB), hand grenades (158 dBA), and artillery (180 dB). And it isn’t quiet at military bases either. On the deck of an aircraft carrier, sound levels can go from 130-160 dB; engine rooms might be inside (and not have jets taking off), but they’re still incredibly loud. Noise levels for aviators are high too, with choppers on the low end (about 95-100 dB) and most jets and other aircraft going over 100 dB. Another concern: Some jet fuels, according to one study, interrupt the auditory process triggering hearing impairment.
And as a 2015 study of hearing loss among military personnel aptly shows, 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 daily tasks. And although hearing protection is standard issue, many of the sounds just described are so loud that even the best-performing hearing protection isn’t enough.
How Can Veterans Treat Hearing Loss?
Noise induced hearing loss can be alleviated with hearing aids even though it can’t be cured. The loss of high-pitch sound is the most common form of hearing impairment among veterans and this kind of impairment can be managed with specialized hearing aids. Tinnitus can’t be cured, but as it’s frequently a symptom of another problem, treatment possibilities are also available.
In serving our country, veterans have already made lots of sacrifices. They shouldn’t have to sacrifice their hearing too.