When the men and women of our armed forces come home from service, they often suffer from emotional, physical, and mental problems. While healthcare for veterans is a continuing discussion, relatively little attention has been paid to the most prevalent disabilities diagnosed in veterans: Tinnitus and hearing loss.
Even if you factor in age and occupation, there’s a 30% higher chance of veterans having severe hearing impairment compared to civilians. Hearing loss, linked to military service, has been reported at least back to World War 2, but it’s far more widespread in veterans who have served more recently. Recent veterans, who are also, on average, among the youngest former service members, are four times more likely than non-veterans to suffer from severe hearing impairment.
Why Are Veterans at Greater Risk For Hearing Loss?
The answer is simple: Exposure to noise. Some professions are clearly noisier than others. Librarians, for example, are normally in a more quiet environment. Thet would likely be exposed to decibel levels ranging from a whisper (about 30 dB) to normal conversation (60 dB).
At the other end of the sonic spectrum, for civilians at least, let’s say you’re a construction worker, and you’re on a job site that’s in the city. Background noises you would periodically hear, such as the siren of an emergency vehicle (120dB), or continuously, like heavy city traffic, are hazardous to your hearing. Research has found that construction equipment noise, anything from power tools to bulldozers, exposes laborers to noises louder than 85 dB.
Construction sites are definitely loud, but people in the military are regularly exposed to noise that is a lot 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 none too quiet either. On the deck of an aircraft carrier, noise levels can range from 130-160 dB; engine rooms might be indoors (and no jets), but they’re still extremely loud. Noise levels for aviators are high too, with choppers on the low end (about 95-100 dB) and the majority of jets and other aircraft going above 100 dB. Another concern: Certain jet fuels, according to one study, interrupt the auditory process causing 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 contend with noise exposure so that they accomplish missions and even daily activities. And even though hearing protection is standard issue, lots of the sounds just outlined are so loud that even the best-performing hearing protection is not enough.
How Can Veterans Treat Hearing Loss?
Even though hearing loss due to noise exposure is permanent, the impairment can be alleviated with hearing aids. The most common kind of hearing loss among veterans is a weakened ability to hear high-pitch sounds, but this type of hearing loss can be remedied with specialized hearing aids. Tinnitus can’t be cured, but as it’s frequently a symptom of another issue, treatment possibilities are also available.
In serving our country, veterans have already made lots of sacrifices. Hearing shouldn’t have to be one of them.