The men and women who serve our country in uniform too frequently cope with debilitating mental, physical, and emotional difficulties after their service has ended. Within the continuing dialogue concerning veteran’s healthcare, the most frequently diagnosed disability is often relatively disregarded: Tinnitus and hearing loss.
Veterans are 30% more likely than civilians to suffer from significant hearing impairment, even when age and occupation are factored in. Though service-related hearing loss has been documented going back to World War 2, the numbers are even more dramatic for military personnel who served more recently. Veterans who have served recently are generally 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 Service Personnel at Greater Risk For Hearing Impairment?
The answer is simple: Noise exposure. Sure, some occupations are noisier than others. Librarians, for example, are usually in a more quiet atmosphere. They’d likely be exposed to decibel levels ranging from a whisper (about 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 work on a job site that’s in the city. Sounds you’d continuously hear (heavy traffic, around 85 dB) or sporadically (an ambulance siren’s around 120 dB) are at unsafe levels, and that’s only background noise. Research has revealed that construction equipment noise, anything from power tools to bulldozers, exposes workers to sounds louder than 85 dB.
As loud as a heavy construction site is, active military personnel are constantly 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 isn’t quiet at military bases either. On the deck of an aircraft carrier, sound levels can go from 130-160 dB; engine rooms might be indoors (and not have jets taking off), but they’re still extremely loud. For pilots, noise levels are high too, with helicopters being well over 100 dB and jets and other planes also being well over 100 dB. Another worry: Certain jet fuels, according to one study, interrupt the auditory process causing 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 execute everyday activities, they have to bear with noise exposure. 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 Address Hearing Loss?
Though hearing loss due to noise exposure is irreversible, the impairment can be alleviated with hearing aids. The most common kind of hearing loss among veterans is a decreased ability to hear high-pitch sounds, but this kind of hearing loss can be remedied with specialized hearing aids. Tinnitus is frequently a symptom of another health problem and though it can’t be cured, there are also treatment options for it.
Veterans have already made countless sacrifices in serving our country. They shouldn’t have to sacrifice their hearing too.