When the men and women of our armed forces return home from service, they frequently suffer from physical, emotional, and mental challenges. While healthcare for veterans is an ongoing discussion, relatively little attention has been paid to the most prevalent disabilities diagnosed in veterans: Hearing loss and tinnitus.
Even if you factor in age and occupation, there’s a 30% higher chance of veterans having severe hearing impairment compared to civilians. Even though service-related hearing loss has been recognized going back to the second World War, the numbers are even more stunning for military personnel who served more recently. Veterans who have served recently are commonly 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 Impairment Greater For Service Personnel?
Two words: Exposure to noise. Sure, 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 decibel levels ranging from a whisper (around 30 dB) to average 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 (city traffic, around 85 dB) or periodically (an ambulance siren’s around 120 dB) are at hazardous levels, and that’s just background noise. Research has shown that construction equipment noise, everything from power tools to bulldozers, exposes workers to sounds louder than 85 dB.
Construction sites are undoubtedly loud, but people in the military are constantly exposed to noise that is a lot louder. In combat scenarios, troops are exposed to gunfire (150 dB), grenades (158 dB), and heavy artillery (180 dB). But military bases, whether at home or overseas, are none too quiet either. Indoor engine rooms are very loud and the deck of an aircraft carrier can be as loud as 130 – 160 dB. For pilots, sound levels are high too, with choppers being well above 100 dB and jets and other planes also being well above 100 dB. Another concern: One study discovered that exposure to some types of jet fuel appears to cause hearing loss by interrupting auditory processing.
And as a 2015 study of hearing loss amongst military personnel aptly shows, for the men and women who serve our country, it’s not a choice, it’s a duty. They have to deal with noise exposure so that they complete missions and even day-to-day tasks. And although hearing protection is standard issue, many of the sounds just discussed are so loud that even the best-performing hearing protection isn’t enough.
How Can Veterans 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 form 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 issue, treatment solutions are also available.
In serving our country, veterans have already made many sacrifices. They shouldn’t have to sacrifice their hearing too.