The men and women who serve our country in uniform too often suffer debilitating mental, physical, and emotional difficulties after their service is finished. Within the continuing discussion about veteran’s healthcare, the most frequently diagnosed disability is often relatively neglected: Hearing loss and tinnitus.
Veterans are 30% more likely than non-veterans to deal with significant hearing impairment, even when occupation and age are taken into account. Hearing loss, linked to military service, has been recognized at least back to World War 2, but it’s much more widespread in veterans who have 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 loss than non-veterans.
Why Are Service Personnel at Greater Risk For Hearing Loss?
The answer is simple: Noise exposure. Some vocations are clearly noisier than others. For example, a librarian will be working in a fairly quiet environment. Thet would likely be exposed to decibel levels ranging from a whisper (about 30 dB) to normal conversation (60 dB).
For civilians who are at the other end of the sonic scale, such as an urban construction worker, the danger rises. Sounds you’d continuously hear (city traffic, about 85 dB) or sporadically (an ambulance siren’s around 120 dB) are at hazardous levels, and that’s just background noise. Research has revealed that construction equipment noise, anything from power tools to bulldozers, exposes laborers to noises louder than 85 dB.
As loud as a heavy construction site is, active military personnel are constantly subjected to much louder noises. This is certainly true in combat areas, where troops hear sounds like gunfire (150 dB), hand grenades (158 dBA), and artillery (180 dB). But military bases, whether at home or overseas, are none too quiet either. On the deck of an aircraft carrier, noise levels can range from 130-160 dB; engine rooms may be inside (and not have jets taking off), but they’re still incredibly loud. For pilots, sound levels are loud also, with helicopters being well above 100 dB and jets and other planes also being well above 100 dB. Another worry: Some jet fuels, according to one study, interrupt the auditory process causing hearing impairment.
And as a 2015 study of hearing loss amongst military personnel adeptly shows, for the men and women who serve our country, it’s not a choice, it’s a duty. They need to contend with noise exposure so that they accomplish missions and even everyday tasks. And even the best performing, standard issue, hearing protection frequently isn’t enough to protect against some of these noises.
How Can Veterans Address Hearing Loss?
Although hearing loss due to noise exposure is permanent, the impairment can be eased with hearing aids. The loss of high-pitch sound is the most prevalent type of hearing impairment among veterans and this type 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. Hearing shouldn’t have to be one of them.