When the men and women of our armed forces return home from service, they frequently suffer from physical, emotional, and mental challenges. While healthcare for veterans is a recurring discussion, relatively little attention has been paid to the most prevalent disabilities diagnosed in veterans: Tinnitus and hearing loss.
Even if you factor in age and occupation, there’s a 30% higher chance of veterans having significant hearing impairment compared to non-veterans. Hearing loss, related to military service, has been documented at least back to the second world war, but it’s far 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 is The Risk of Hearing Impairment Greater For Service Personnel?
The answer is simple: Exposure to noise. Certainly, some vocations are louder than others. For example, a librarian will be working in a fairly quiet environment. The volume of sound that they would normally be exposed to would be from 30dB (a whisper) to 60 dB (normal conversation).
At the other end of the sonic spectrum, for civilians at least, let’s say you’re a construction worker, and you’re on a job site that’s in the city. Sounds you’d continuously hear (heavy traffic, about 85 dB) or periodically (an ambulance siren’s about 120 dB) are at unsafe levels, and that’s only background noise. 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 noises 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 go from 130-160 dB; engine rooms might be indoors (and no jets), but they’re still extremely loud. Noise levels for pilots are high too, with helicopters on the low end (around 95-100 dB) and most jets and other aircraft going above 100 dB. Another concern: Some jet fuels, according to one study, interrupt the auditory process triggering hearing impairment.
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 activities, they have to deal with noise exposure. And although hearing protection is standard issue, lots of the sounds just outlined are so loud that even the best-performing hearing protection isn’t enough.
How Can Veterans Deal With Hearing Loss?
Noise induced hearing loss can be eased with hearing aids even though it can’t be cured. The loss of high-pitch sound is the most common kind of hearing impairment among veterans and this kind of impairment can be treated with specialized hearing aids. Tinnitus can’t be cured, but as it’s often a symptom of another issue, treatment options are also available.
In serving our country, veterans have already made many sacrifices. Hearing shouldn’t have to be one of them.