The men and women who serve our country in uniform too frequently suffer incapacitating physical, mental, and emotional challenges after their service is finished. Within the continuing dialogue about veteran’s healthcare, the most commonly diagnosed disability is often relatively disregarded: Hearing loss and tinnitus.
Veterans are 30% more likely than non-veterans to suffer from significant hearing impairment, even when occupation and age are taken into account. Hearing loss, related to military service, has been recognized at least back to the second world war, but it’s far more widespread in veterans who have served more recently. Veterans who have served recently are typically 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 is The Risk of Hearing Impairment Greater For Service Personnel?
Two words: Noise exposure. Certainly, some vocations are noisier than others. For instance, a librarian will be working in a relatively quiet setting. They’d most likely be exposed to volumes ranging from a whisper (about 30 dB) to standard conversation (60 dB).
For civilians who are at the other end of the sonic spectrum, like an urban construction worker, the danger increases. Background noises you would periodically hear, such as the siren of an emergency vehicle (120dB), or constantly, like heavy city traffic, are hazardous to your hearing. Noises louder than 85dB (from power tools to heavy equipment) are prevalent on construction sites according to research.
Construction sites are definitely loud, but individuals in the military are constantly exposed to noise that is much louder. This is definitely true in combat areas, where troops hear sounds like gunfire (150 dB), hand grenades (158 dBA), and artillery (180 dB). But military bases, whether overseas or at home, are not very quiet either. Indoor engine rooms are really loud and the deck of an aircraft carrier can be as loud as 130 – 160 dB. Noise levels for pilots are high too, with helicopters on the low end (about 95-100 dB) and most jets and other aircraft going 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 choice of opting out, as a 2015 study plainly demonstrates. In order to complete a mission or carry out everyday tasks, they have to deal with noise exposure. And even though hearing protection is standard issue, lots of the sounds just discussed are so loud that even the best-performing hearing protection is not enough.
How Can Veterans Deal With Hearing Loss?
Though hearing loss due to noise exposure is irreversible, the impairment can be eased with hearing aids. The most prevalent kind of hearing loss amongst veterans is a weakened ability to hear high-frequency 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 options for it.
Veterans have already made countless sacrifices in serving our country. They shouldn’t have to sacrifice their hearing too.