When the men and women of our armed forces come home from service, they often suffer from emotional, physical, and mental difficulties. While healthcare for veterans is a recurring discussion, relatively little attention has been paid to the most common disabilities diagnosed in veterans: Hearing loss and tinnitus.
Veterans are 30% more likely than civilians to deal with significant hearing impairment, even when occupation and age are taken into account. Hearing loss, linked to military service, has been documented at least back to the second world war, but it’s much 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 endure severe hearing impairment.
Why Are Service Personnel at Greater Risk For Hearing Impairment?
Two words: Exposure to noise. Sure, some vocations are louder than others. Librarians, for example, are usually in a more quiet atmosphere. The sound level that they would usually be exposed to would be from 30dB (a whisper) to 60 dB (average conversation).
At the other end of the sonic scale, for civilians anyway, let’s say you’re a construction worker, and you’re on a job site that’s in the city. Background noises you would periodically hear, like the siren of an emergency vehicle (120dB), or constantly, like heavy city traffic, are hazardous to your hearing. Research has revealed that construction equipment noise, everything from power tools to heavy loaders, exposes laborers to noises louder than 85 dB.
As noisy as a heavy construction site is, active military personnel are regularly exposed to much louder noises. This is certainly true in combat areas, 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. Indoor engine rooms are really loud and the deck of an aircraft carrier can be as loud as 130 – 160 dB. Noise levels for aviators are high as well, with helicopters on the low end (about 95-100 dB) and the majority of jets and other aircraft going above 100 dB. Another concern: One study found that exposure to some forms of jet fuel appears to cause hearing loss by interrupting auditory processing.
Our service men and women don’t have the choice of opting out, as a 2015 study clearly demonstrates. They have to deal with noise exposure so that they complete missions and even everyday activities. And even the best performing, standard issue, hearing protection frequently isn’t enough to protect against some of these noises.
How Can Veterans Address Hearing Loss?
Noise related hearing loss can be reduced with hearing aids even though it can’t be cured. The most common type of hearing loss among veterans is a diminished 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.
In serving our country, veterans have already made lots of sacrifices. They shouldn’t have to sacrifice their hearing too.