When the men and women of our armed forces return home from service, they frequently suffer from emotional, physical, and mental problems. Within the continuing dialogue concerning veteran’s healthcare, the most commonly diagnosed disability is often relatively disregarded: 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. Hearing loss, linked to military service, has been reported at least back to the second world war, but it’s a lot more widespread in veterans who have served more recently. Veterans who have served recently are generally among the younger group of service members and are also as much as four times more likely to have hearing impairment than non-veterans.
Why Are Veterans at Greater Risk For Hearing Loss?
Two words: Noise exposure. Some occupations are obviously louder than others. As an example, a librarian will be working in a rather quiet environment. The volume of sound that they would normally be exposed to would be from 30dB (a whisper) to 60 dB (normal conversation).
At the other end of the sonic scale, for civilians anyway, let’s say you’re a construction worker, and you work on a job site that’s in the city. Sounds you’d constantly hear (heavy traffic, around 85 dB) or periodically (an ambulance siren’s around 120 dB) are at hazardous levels, and that’s just background noise. Sounds louder than 85dB (from power tools to heavy equipment) are prevalent on construction sites according to research.
Construction sites are undoubtedly loud, but individuals in the military are constantly exposed to noise that is far louder. In combat settings, troops are subjected to gunfire (150 dB), grenades (158 dB), and heavy artillery (180 dB). And it’s not quiet at military bases either. Indoor engine rooms are very loud and the deck of an aircraft carrier can be as loud as 130 – 160 dB. For aviators, sound levels are loud too, with choppers being well over 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 triggering hearing impairment.
And as a 2015 study of hearing loss among 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 in order to accomplish missions and even day-to-day tasks. And although hearing protection is standard issue, lots of the sounds just discussed are so loud that even the best-performing hearing protection is not enough.
How Can Veterans Address Hearing Loss?
Noise related hearing loss can be reduced with hearing aids even though it can’t be cured. The loss of high-frequency sound is the most common type of hearing impairment among veterans and this type of impairment can be managed with specialized hearing aids. Tinnitus is frequently a symptom of another health issue and although it can’t be cured, there are also treatment options for it.
Veterans have already made countless sacrifices in serving our country. They shouldn’t have to sacrifice their hearing too.