The men and women who serve our country in uniform too often cope with incapacitating mental, physical, and emotional challenges after their service has ended. Within the continuing discussion about veteran’s healthcare, the most commonly diagnosed disability is often relatively disregarded: Hearing loss and tinnitus.
Veterans are 30% more likely than civilians to suffer from significant hearing impairment, even when occupation and age are taken into account. Hearing loss, related to military service, has been recognized at least back to World War 2, but it’s much more widespread in veterans who have served more recently. Veterans who have served recently are typically among the younger group of service members and are also as much as four times more likely to have hearing impairment than non-veterans.
Why Are Veterans at Greater Risk For Hearing Impairment?
Two words: Noise exposure. Some professions are obviously louder than others. For example, a librarian will be working in a fairly quiet setting. They’d most likely be exposed to volumes ranging from a whisper (around 30 dB) to normal conversation (60 dB).
At the other end of the sonic spectrum, 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 sporadically hear, such as the siren of an emergency vehicle (120dB), or constantly, like heavy city traffic, are hazardous to your hearing. Sounds louder than 85dB (from power tools to heavy equipment) are prevalent on construction sites according to research.
As noisy as a heavy construction site is, active military personnel are regularly subjected to much louder noises. In combat settings, troops are subjected to gunfire (150 dB), grenades (158 dB), and heavy 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 over 100 dB. Another worry: Some jet fuels, according to one study, interrupt 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. They have to contend with noise exposure so that they accomplish missions and even daily tasks. And even the best performing, standard issue, hearing protection frequently isn’t enough to protect against some of these noises.
What Can Veterans do to Treat 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 form of hearing loss among veterans and this type of impairment can be managed with specialized hearing aids. Tinnitus is often a symptom of another health issue and though it can’t be cured, there are also treatment solutions for it.
In serving our country, veterans have already made lots of sacrifices. They shouldn’t have to sacrifice their hearing too.