The men and women who serve our country in uniform too frequently endure debilitating mental, physical, and emotional challenges after their service has ended. Within the continuing discussion concerning veteran’s healthcare, the most frequently diagnosed disability is often relatively disregarded: Hearing loss and tinnitus.
Even if you take into account age and occupation, there’s a 30% higher chance of veterans having severe hearing impairment compared to civilians. Even though service-related hearing loss has been recognized going back to the second World War, the numbers are even more stunning for military personnel who served more recently. Veterans who have served recently are typically among the younger group of service members and are also up to four times more likely to have hearing loss than non-veterans.
Why Are Service Personnel at Greater Risk For Hearing Loss?
The answer is simple: Noise exposure. Some professions are obviously noisier than others. As an example, a librarian will be working in a rather quiet setting. Thet would likely be exposed to decibel levels ranging from a whisper (about 30 dB) to standard conversation (60 dB).
At the other end of the sonic scale, for civilians at least, let’s say you’re a construction worker, and you’re on a job site that’s in the city. Background noises you would periodically hear, such as the siren of an emergency vehicle (120dB), or constantly, like heavy city traffic, are harmful to your hearing. Research has revealed that construction equipment noise, everything from power tools to bulldozers, exposes workers to noises louder than 85 dB.
Construction sites are definitely loud, but individuals in the military are constantly exposed to noise that is much louder. In combat settings, troops are subjected to gunfire (150 dB), grenades (158 dB), and heavy artillery (180 dB). But military bases, whether at home or overseas, 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 pilots are high as well, with choppers on the low end (about 95-100 dB) and the majority of jets and other aircraft going above 100 dB. Another worry: Certain jet fuels, according to one study, interrupt the auditory process triggering hearing impairment.
Our service men and women don’t have the option of opting out, as a 2015 study clearly demonstrates. In order to complete a mission or carry out everyday tasks, they have to cope with noise exposure. And even though hearing protection is standard issue, many of the sounds just described are so loud that even the best-performing hearing protection isn’t enough.
What Can Veterans do to Treat Hearing Loss?
Noise related hearing loss can be reduced with hearing aids even though it can’t be cured. The loss of high-frequency sound is the most prevalent form of hearing loss among veterans and this kind of impairment can be treated with specialized hearing aids. Tinnitus is frequently a symptom of another health issue and although it can’t be cured, there are also treatment options for it.
In serving our country, veterans have already made many sacrifices. Hearing shouldn’t have to be one of them.