The men and women who serve our country in uniform too often endure debilitating physical, mental, and emotional challenges after their service has ended. Within the continuing discussion concerning veteran’s healthcare, the most commonly diagnosed disability is often relatively neglected: Hearing loss and tinnitus.
Even if you take into account 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 documented at least back to World War 2, but it’s far more prevalent in veterans who have served more recently. Recent veterans, who are also, typically, among the youngest former service members, are four times more likely than non-veterans to deal with severe hearing impairment.
Why is The Risk of Hearing Loss Greater For Veterans?
The answer is simple: Exposure to noise. Certainly, some vocations are louder than others. For example, a librarian will be working in a fairly quiet environment. Thet would most likely be exposed to volumes ranging from a whisper (about 30 dB) to standard conversation (60 dB).
For civilians who are at the other end of the sonic spectrum, like an urban construction worker, the danger increases. Sounds you’d continuously hear (city traffic, around 85 dB) or sporadically (an ambulance siren’s around 120 dB) are at unsafe levels, and that’s just background noise. Research has found that construction equipment noise, everything from power tools to bulldozers, exposes workers to sounds louder than 85 dB.
As noisy as a heavy construction site is, active military personnel are constantly exposed to much louder noises. 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 at home or overseas, are none too quiet either. Indoor engine rooms are really loud and the deck of an aircraft carrier can be as loud as 130 – 160 dB. Noise levels for pilots 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 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 need to cope with noise exposure in order to accomplish missions and even daily activities. And although hearing protection is standard issue, lots of the sounds just outlined are so loud that even the best-performing hearing protection isn’t enough.
How Can Veterans Deal With Hearing Loss?
Although hearing loss due to noise exposure is irreversible, the impairment can be alleviated with hearing aids. The most prevalent type of hearing loss among veterans is a weakened ability to hear high-pitch sounds, but this type of hearing impairment can be remedied with specialized hearing aids. Tinnitus can’t be cured, but as it’s frequently a symptom of another problem, treatment possibilities are also available.
Veterans have already made countless sacrifices in serving our country. They shouldn’t have to sacrifice their hearing too.