The men and women who serve our country in uniform too often suffer debilitating physical, mental, and emotional challenges after their service is finished. Within the continuing dialogue concerning veteran’s healthcare, the most frequently diagnosed disability is often relatively neglected: Tinnitus and hearing loss.
Veterans are 30% more likely than civilians to deal with significant hearing impairment, even when age and occupation are taken into account. Hearing loss, linked to military service, has been recognized at least back to the second world war, but it’s far more prevalent 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 Are Veterans at Greater Risk For Hearing Impairment?
Two words: Exposure to noise. Certainly, some vocations are noisier than others. For example, a librarian will be working in a relatively quiet environment. They’d likely be exposed to volumes ranging from a whisper (about 30 dB) to standard conversation (60 dB).
At the other end of the sonic scale, for civilians anyway, let’s say you’re a construction worker, and you work on a job site that’s in the city. Sounds you’d constantly hear (heavy traffic, about 85 dB) or sporadically (an ambulance siren’s about 120 dB) are at hazardous levels, and that’s just background noise. Research has revealed that construction equipment noise, everything from power tools to heavy loaders, exposes laborers to sounds louder than 85 dB.
Construction sites are undoubtedly loud, but people in the military are constantly exposed to noise that is a lot louder. This is certainly true in combat settings, where troops hear sounds like gunfire (150 dB), hand grenades (158 dBA), and artillery (180 dB). But military bases, whether overseas or at home, are not very quiet 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 too, with helicopters on the low end (about 95-100 dB) and the majority of jets and other aircraft going over 100 dB. Another concern: Some jet fuels, according to one study, disrupt the auditory process causing hearing impairment.
And as a 2015 study of hearing loss among military personnel adeptly highlights, for the men and women who serve our country, it’s not a choice, it’s a duty. In order to complete a mission or perform everyday tasks, they have to deal with noise exposure. And even the best performing, standard issue, hearing protection frequently isn’t enough to protect against some of these noises.
How Can Veterans Deal With Hearing Loss?
Noise related hearing loss can be eased 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 kind of impairment can be treated 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. Hearing shouldn’t have to be one of them.