When the men and women of our armed forces return 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: Tinnitus and hearing loss.
Veterans are 30% more likely than civilians to suffer from severe hearing impairment, even when age and occupation are taken into account. Hearing loss, related to military service, has been reported at least back to World War 2, but it’s far more prevalent in veterans who have served more recently. Veterans who have served recently are typically 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 is The Risk of Hearing Loss Greater For Veterans?
The answer is simple: Exposure to noise. Sure, some vocations are louder than others. Librarians, for instance, are normally in a more quiet atmosphere. The sound level that they would usually be exposed to would be from 30dB (a whisper) to 60 dB (normal conversation).
At the other end of the sonic spectrum, for civilians at least, 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, about 85 dB) or periodically (an ambulance siren’s around 120 dB) are at hazardous levels, and that’s just background noise. Research has shown that construction equipment noise, anything from power tools to bulldozers, exposes laborers to sounds louder than 85 dB.
As noisy as a heavy construction site is, active military personnel are constantly subjected to much louder sounds. This is definitely true in combat settings, 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. Indoor engine rooms are really loud and the deck of an aircraft carrier can be as loud as 130 – 160 dB. Noise levels for aviators are high too, with choppers on the low end (around 95-100 dB) and most jets and other aircraft going above 100 dB. Another concern: Some jet fuels, according to one study, disrupt the auditory process triggering hearing impairment.
Our service men and women don’t have the option of opting out, as a 2015 study clearly demonstrates. In order to complete a mission or carry out daily activities, they have to deal with noise exposure. And even though hearing protection is standard issue, many of the sounds just described are so loud that even the best-performing hearing protection isn’t enough.
How Can Veterans Address Hearing Loss?
Though hearing loss due to noise exposure is permanent, the impairment can be alleviated with hearing aids. The most prevalent type of hearing loss among veterans is a diminished ability to hear high-pitch sounds, but this form of hearing loss can be corrected with specialized hearing aids. Tinnitus is frequently a symptom of another health problem and although it can’t be cured, there are also treatment options for it.
In serving our country, veterans have already made lots of sacrifices. They shouldn’t have to sacrifice their hearing too.