The men and women who serve our country in uniform too frequently suffer debilitating physical, mental, and emotional challenges after their service is finished. While healthcare for veterans is an ongoing discussion, relatively little attention has been paid to the most prevalent disabilities diagnosed in veterans: Tinnitus and hearing loss.
Even if you take into account age and occupation, there’s a 30% higher chance of veterans having severe 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 dramatic 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 Are Veterans at Greater Risk For Hearing Loss?
Two words: Exposure to noise. Some occupations are obviously louder than others. For example, a librarian will be working in a rather quiet setting. Thet would most likely be exposed to decibel levels ranging from a whisper (about 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 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 machinery) are prevalent on construction sites according to research.
Construction sites are undoubtedly loud, but people in the military are constantly exposed to noise that is far louder. This is certainly true in combat areas, where troops hear sounds like gunfire (150 dB), hand grenades (158 dBA), and artillery (180 dB). But military bases, whether at home or overseas, are not very quiet either. On the deck of an aircraft carrier, noise levels can range from 130-160 dB; engine rooms might be indoors (and not have jets taking off), but they’re still extremely loud. Noise levels for pilots are high too, with choppers on the low end (about 95-100 dB) and most jets and other aircraft going over 100 dB. Another worry: One study found that exposure to some kinds of jet fuel seems to cause hearing loss by interrupting auditory processing.
And as a 2015 study of hearing loss amongst military personnel aptly highlights, for the men and women who serve our country, opting out is not an option. They have to deal with noise exposure so that they complete missions and even everyday activities. And even though hearing protection is standard issue, many of the sounds just discussed are so loud that even the best-performing hearing protection isn’t enough.
How Can Veterans Deal With Hearing Loss?
Even though hearing loss due to noise exposure is permanent, the impairment can be reduced with hearing aids. The loss of high-frequency sound is the most common type of hearing loss among veterans and this kind of impairment can be managed with specialized hearing aids. Tinnitus is often a symptom of another health problem and though 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.