The men and women who serve our country in uniform too frequently suffer debilitating mental, physical, and emotional difficulties after their service is finished. While healthcare for veterans is a continuing dialogue, relatively little attention has been paid to the most prevalent disabilities diagnosed in veterans: 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 loss than non-veterans.
Why is The Risk of Hearing Loss Greater For Veterans?
Two words: Exposure to noise. Some vocations are clearly louder than others. As an example, a librarian will be working in a rather quiet environment. Thet would most likely be exposed to volumes ranging from a whisper (about 30 dB) to normal conversation (60 dB).
For civilians who are at the other end of the sonic spectrum, such as an urban construction worker, the danger increases. Sounds you’d continuously hear (city traffic, about 85 dB) or sporadically (an ambulance siren’s around 120 dB) are at harmful levels, and that’s only background noise. Noises louder than 85dB (from power tools to heavy equipment) are common on construction sites according to research.
Construction sites are definitely loud, but people in the military are constantly exposed to noise that is much louder. In combat scenarios, troops are exposed 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 (around 95-100 dB) and the majority of jets and other aircraft going over 100 dB. Another concern: One study revealed that exposure to some kinds of jet fuel seems to cause hearing impairment by disrupting auditory processing.
Our service men and women don’t have the option of opting out, as a 2015 study plainly demonstrates. They have to cope with noise exposure in order to accomplish missions and even daily tasks. And even the best performing, standard issue, hearing protection often isn’t enough to protect against some of these noises.
What Can Veterans do to Address Hearing Loss?
Noise related hearing loss can be eased with hearing aids even though it can’t be cured. The most prevalent type of hearing loss amongst veterans is a diminished ability to hear high-pitch sounds, but this kind of hearing loss can be corrected with specialized hearing aids. Tinnitus can’t be cured, but as it’s frequently a symptom of another issue, treatment possibilities are also available.
Veterans have already made many sacrifices in serving our country. They shouldn’t have to sacrifice their hearing too.