The men and women who serve our country in uniform too frequently suffer debilitating mental, physical, and emotional difficulties after their service is finished. Within the continuing discussion concerning veteran’s healthcare, the most frequently diagnosed disability is often relatively neglected: Hearing loss and tinnitus.
Even if you factor in age and occupation, there’s a 30% higher chance of veterans having severe hearing impairment compared to non-veterans. Hearing loss, related to military service, has been reported at least back to the second world war, but it’s far more widespread 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 impairment than non-veterans.
Why is The Risk of Hearing Loss Greater For Service Personnel?
The answer is simple: Exposure to noise. Certainly, some occupations are louder than others. As an example, a librarian will be working in a rather quiet setting. The sound level that they would usually be exposed to would be from 30dB (a whisper) to 60 dB (standard conversation).
For civilians who are at the other end of the sonic spectrum, like an urban construction worker, the hazard rises. Sounds you’d constantly hear (heavy traffic, around 85 dB) or sporadically (an ambulance siren’s about 120 dB) are at hazardous levels, and that’s just background noise. 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 constantly exposed to much louder sounds. In combat situations, troops are subjected 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. On the deck of an aircraft carrier, sound levels can go from 130-160 dB; engine rooms may be indoors (and no jets), but they’re still incredibly loud. For pilots, sound levels are high too, with helicopters being well over 100 dB and jets and other planes also being well above 100 dB. Another concern: One study revealed that exposure to some types of jet fuel seems to cause hearing impairment by disrupting auditory processing.
Our service men and women don’t have the choice of opting out, as a 2015 study clearly demonstrates. They need to contend with noise exposure in order to accomplish missions and even everyday tasks. And even though hearing protection is standard issue, many of the sounds just described are so loud that even the best-performing hearing protection is not enough.
What Can Veterans do to Address Hearing Loss?
Noise related hearing loss can be reduced with hearing aids even though it can’t be cured. The loss of high-frequency sound is the most prevalent type of hearing loss among veterans and this type of impairment can be managed with specialized hearing aids. Tinnitus can’t be cured, but as it’s frequently a symptom of another issue, treatment solutions are also available.
In serving our country, veterans have already made lots of sacrifices. Hearing shouldn’t have to be one of them.