The men and women who serve our country in uniform too often cope with incapacitating mental, physical, and emotional difficulties after their service has ended. Within the continuing dialogue about veteran’s healthcare, the most frequently diagnosed disability is often relatively overlooked: Tinnitus and hearing loss.
Even if you take into account age and occupation, there’s a 30% higher chance of veterans having significant hearing impairment compared to non-veterans. Even though service-related hearing loss has been recognized going back to World War 2, the numbers are even more stunning for military personnel who 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 loss than non-veterans.
Why Are Veterans at Greater Risk For Hearing Loss?
The answer is simple: Exposure to noise. Sure, some occupations are louder than others. Librarians, for example, are normally in a more quiet environment. Thet would likely be exposed to decibel levels ranging from a whisper (around 30 dB) to standard conversation (60 dB).
At the other end of the sonic spectrum, for civilians anyway, let’s say you’re a construction worker, and you work on a job site that’s in the city. 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. Noises louder than 85dB (from power tools to heavy equipment) are common on construction sites according to research.
As noisy as a heavy construction site is, active military personnel are constantly exposed to much louder sounds. In combat situations, troops are exposed to gunfire (150 dB), grenades (158 dB), and heavy artillery (180 dB). And it’s not quiet at military bases either. On the deck of an aircraft carrier, sound levels can go from 130-160 dB; engine rooms might be indoors (and not have jets taking off), but they’re still very loud. For aviators, noise levels are high as well, with choppers being well above 100 dB and jets and other planes also being well over 100 dB. Another worry: Some jet fuels, according to one study, disrupt the auditory process triggering hearing impairment.
And as a 2015 study of hearing loss among military personnel adeptly points out, for the men and women who serve our country, it’s not a choice, it’s a duty. So that they can complete a mission or carry out daily tasks, they have to deal with noise exposure. And although hearing protection is standard issue, many of the sounds just discussed are so loud that even the best-performing hearing protection is not enough.
What Can Veterans do to Treat Hearing Loss?
Though hearing loss due to noise exposure is irreversible, the impairment can be reduced with hearing aids. The loss of high-frequency sound is the most prevalent type of hearing impairment among veterans and this kind of impairment can be treated 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 many sacrifices. Hearing shouldn’t have to be one of them.