When the men and women of our armed forces return home from service, they frequently suffer from emotional, physical, and mental difficulties. While healthcare for veterans is an ongoing discussion, relatively little attention has been paid to the most common disabilities diagnosed in veterans: Tinnitus and hearing loss.
Veterans are 30% more likely than civilians to suffer from severe hearing impairment, even when occupation and age are taken into account. Hearing loss, linked to military service, has been reported at least back to World War 2, but it’s much more prevalent 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. Sure, some vocations are louder than others. Librarians, for instance, are usually in a more quiet setting. They’d likely be exposed to decibel levels ranging from a whisper (around 30 dB) to standard conversation (60 dB).
At the other end of the sonic spectrum, for civilians anyway, let’s say you’re a construction worker, and you work on a job site that’s in the city. Background noises you would sporadically hear, such as the siren of an emergency vehicle (120dB), or constantly, like heavy city traffic, are hazardous to your hearing. Research has shown that construction equipment noise, everything from power tools to heavy loaders, exposes workers to sounds louder than 85 dB.
As noisy as a heavy construction site is, active military personnel are constantly subjected to much louder sounds. In combat scenarios, troops are exposed to gunfire (150 dB), grenades (158 dB), and heavy 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. For aviators, sound levels are high as well, with choppers being well over 100 dB and jets and other planes also being well over 100 dB. Another concern: One study discovered that exposure to some kinds of jet fuel appears to cause hearing impairment by interrupting auditory processing.
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 perform day to day tasks, they have to deal with noise exposure. And even the best performing, standard issue, hearing protection frequently isn’t enough to protect against some of these noises.
How Can Veterans Treat Hearing Loss?
Noise induced hearing loss can be eased with hearing aids even though it can’t be cured. The most common kind of hearing loss among veterans is a decreased ability to hear high-pitch sounds, but this kind of hearing loss can be corrected with specialized hearing aids. Tinnitus is often a symptom of another health issue and although it can’t be cured, there are also treatment solutions for it.
Veterans have already made countless sacrifices in serving our country. They shouldn’t have to sacrifice their hearing too.