When the men and women of our armed forces come home from service, they frequently 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: 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 reported 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, generally, among the youngest former service members, are four times more likely than non-veterans to suffer from severe hearing impairment.
Why is The Risk of Hearing Impairment Greater For Veterans?
The answer is simple: Exposure to noise. Sure, some vocations are louder than others. For example, a librarian will be working in a relatively quiet environment. The volume of sound that they would usually be exposed to would be from 30dB (a whisper) to 60 dB (normal conversation).
For civilians who are at the other end of the sonic spectrum, like a city construction worker, the danger increases. Sounds you’d continuously hear (city traffic, about 85 dB) or sporadically (an ambulance siren’s around 120 dB) are at harmful levels, and that’s just background noise. Research has revealed that construction equipment noise, anything from power tools to bulldozers, exposes workers to sounds louder than 85 dB.
Construction sites are definitely loud, but people in the military are constantly exposed to noise that is far louder. In combat situations, troops are exposed to gunfire (150 dB), grenades (158 dB), and heavy artillery (180 dB). And it isn’t quiet at military bases either. On the deck of an aircraft carrier, noise levels can go from 130-160 dB; engine rooms might be indoors (and not have jets taking off), but they’re still extremely loud. Noise levels for pilots are high as well, with helicopters on the low end (about 95-100 dB) and most jets and other aircraft going above 100 dB. Another worry: Certain jet fuels, according to one study, disrupt the auditory process causing hearing impairment.
Our service men and women don’t have the choice of opting out, as a 2015 study clearly demonstrates. In order to complete a mission or perform day to day duties, they have to deal with noise exposure. And although hearing protection is standard issue, many of the sounds just outlined are so loud that even the best-performing hearing protection isn’t enough.
What Can Veterans do to Treat Hearing Loss?
Although hearing loss due to noise exposure is permanent, the impairment can be reduced with hearing aids. The most prevalent type of hearing loss amongst veterans is a decreased ability to hear high-frequency sounds, but this kind of hearing loss can be corrected with specialized hearing aids. Tinnitus can’t be cured, but as it’s often a symptom of another issue, treatment solutions are also available.
In serving our country, veterans have already made many sacrifices. Hearing shouldn’t have to be one of them.