When the men and women of our armed forces come home from service, they often suffer from emotional, physical, and mental problems. While healthcare for veterans is a recurring dialogue, 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 severe hearing impairment, even when age and occupation are taken into account. Hearing loss, linked to military service, has been documented at least back to the second world war, but it’s a lot more widespread in veterans who have served more recently. Recent veterans, who are also, on average, among the youngest former service members, are four times more likely than non-veterans to deal with severe hearing impairment.
Why Are Service Personnel at Greater Risk For Hearing Loss?
Two words: Noise exposure. Some vocations are obviously noisier than others. For example, a librarian will be working in a rather 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 scale, such as a city construction worker, the danger rises. Background noises you would periodically hear, such as the siren of an emergency vehicle (120dB), or continuously, like heavy city traffic, are harmful to your hearing. Noises louder than 85dB (from power tools to heavy equipment) are prevalent on construction sites according to research.
As loud as a heavy construction site is, active military personnel are regularly exposed 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). And it’s not quiet at military bases either. On the deck of an aircraft carrier, noise levels can range from 130-160 dB; engine rooms may be indoors (and not have jets taking off), but they’re still very loud. Noise levels for aviators are high as well, with helicopters on the low end (around 95-100 dB) and most jets and other aircraft going over 100 dB. Another worry: 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 plainly demonstrates. So that they can complete a mission or carry out day to day duties, they have to deal with noise exposure. And although hearing protection is standard issue, lots of the sounds just outlined are so loud that even the best-performing hearing protection is not enough.
What Can Veterans do to Treat Hearing Loss?
Noise related hearing loss can be reduced with hearing aids even though it can’t be cured. The most prevalent type of hearing loss amongst veterans is a weakened ability to hear high-pitch sounds, but this type of hearing loss can be corrected with specialized hearing aids. Tinnitus can’t be cured, but as it’s often a symptom of another problem, treatment possibilities are also available.
Veterans have already made lots of sacrifices in serving our country. Hearing shouldn’t have to be one of them.