The men and women who serve our country in uniform too frequently endure incapacitating physical, mental, and emotional challenges after their service is finished. While healthcare for veterans is an ongoing dialogue, relatively little attention has been paid to the most prevalent disabilities diagnosed in veterans: Hearing loss and tinnitus.
Even if you factor in age and occupation, there’s a 30% higher chance of veterans having significant hearing impairment compared to non-veterans. Though service-related hearing loss has been documented going back to the second World War, the numbers are even more stunning for military personnel who 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 suffer from severe hearing impairment.
Why is The Risk of Hearing Loss Greater For Veterans?
The answer is simple: Exposure to noise. Some occupations are obviously louder than others. Librarians, for instance, are normally in a more quiet setting. The sound level that they would usually be exposed to would be from 30dB (a whisper) to 60 dB (average conversation).
For civilians who are at the other end of the sonic spectrum, like a city construction worker, the danger increases. Sounds you’d constantly hear (heavy traffic, about 85 dB) or sporadically (an ambulance siren’s around 120 dB) are at unsafe levels, and that’s just background noise. Research has shown that construction equipment noise, everything from power tools to heavy loaders, exposes workers to sounds louder than 85 dB.
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 noises like gunfire (150 dB), hand grenades (158 dBA), and artillery (180 dB). And it isn’t 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 pilots, sound levels are loud too, with choppers being well above 100 dB and jets and other planes also being well above 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 choice of opting out, as a 2015 study plainly demonstrates. In order to complete a mission or execute everyday activities, they have to bear with noise exposure. And even the best performing, standard issue, hearing protection often isn’t enough to protect against some of these noises.
What Can Veterans do to Address Hearing Loss?
Though hearing loss due to noise exposure is irreversible, the impairment can be reduced with hearing aids. The loss of high-pitch sound is the most prevalent type of hearing impairment among veterans and this type of impairment can be treated with specialized hearing aids. Tinnitus can’t be cured, but as it’s frequently a symptom of another issue, treatment possibilities are also available.
In serving our country, veterans have already made many sacrifices. Hearing shouldn’t have to be one of them.