The men and women who serve our country in uniform too often cope with incapacitating physical, mental, and emotional difficulties after their service has ended. While healthcare for veterans is a continuing dialogue, 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 severe hearing impairment, even when age and occupation are taken into account. Hearing loss, related to military service, has been recognized at least back to World War 2, but it’s far more widespread in veterans who have served more recently. Veterans who have served recently are generally 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 is The Risk of Hearing Loss Greater For Veterans?
The answer is simple: Exposure to noise. Some vocations are clearly noisier than others. Librarians, for instance, are normally in a more quiet environment. They’d likely be exposed to decibel levels ranging from a whisper (about 30 dB) to standard conversation (60 dB).
For civilians who are at the other end of the sonic spectrum, such as a city construction worker, the hazard increases. Sounds you’d constantly hear (city traffic, around 85 dB) or periodically (an ambulance siren’s about 120 dB) are at harmful levels, and that’s just background noise. Noises 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 constantly subjected 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 isn’t quiet at military bases either. On the deck of an aircraft carrier, noise levels can go from 130-160 dB; engine rooms may be inside (and not have jets taking off), but they’re still incredibly loud. For aviators, sound levels are high also, with choppers being well over 100 dB and jets and other planes also being well above 100 dB. Another worry: Some jet fuels, according to one study, disrupt the auditory process causing hearing impairment.
Our service men and women don’t have the choice of opting out, as a 2015 study plainly demonstrates. So that they can complete a mission or execute everyday duties, they have to bear with noise exposure. And even though hearing protection is standard issue, lots of the sounds just outlined are so loud that even the best-performing hearing protection isn’t enough.
What Can Veterans do to Address Hearing Loss?
Even though hearing loss due to noise exposure is irreversible, the impairment can be eased with hearing aids. The loss of high-frequency sound is the most prevalent form of hearing impairment among veterans and this type of impairment can be treated with specialized hearing aids. Tinnitus can’t be cured, but as it’s frequently a symptom of another problem, treatment possibilities are also available.
Veterans have already made many sacrifices in serving our country. Hearing shouldn’t have to be one of them.