The men and women who serve our country in uniform too frequently endure incapacitating physical, mental, and emotional challenges after their service is finished. While healthcare for veterans is an ongoing dialogue, relatively little attention has been paid to the most prevalent disabilities diagnosed in veterans: Tinnitus and hearing loss.
Even if you take into account age and occupation, there’s a 30% higher chance of veterans having significant hearing impairment compared to civilians. Hearing loss, linked to military service, has been recognized at least back to World War 2, but it’s much more prevalent in veterans who have 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 impairment than non-veterans.
Why Are Service Personnel at Greater Risk For Hearing Impairment?
Two words: Noise exposure. Some professions are clearly louder than others. For example, a librarian will be working in a fairly quiet setting. Thet would most likely be exposed to volumes ranging from a whisper (about 30 dB) to average conversation (60 dB).
For civilians who are at the other end of the sonic scale, such as an urban construction worker, the danger rises. Sounds you’d constantly hear (heavy traffic, around 85 dB) or periodically (an ambulance siren’s around 120 dB) are at hazardous levels, and that’s just background noise. Sounds louder than 85dB (from power tools to heavy machinery) are prevalent on construction sites according to research.
Construction sites are definitely loud, but people in the military are regularly exposed to noise that is a lot louder. In combat scenarios, troops are exposed to gunfire (150 dB), grenades (158 dB), and heavy artillery (180 dB). And it isn’t quiet at military bases either. Indoor engine rooms are very loud and the deck of an aircraft carrier can be as loud as 130 – 160 dB. For aviators, sound levels are high as well, with helicopters being well over 100 dB and jets and other planes also being well above 100 dB. Another concern: Some jet fuels, according to one study, interrupt 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. In order to complete a mission or perform day to day duties, they have to bear with noise exposure. And even the best performing, standard issue, hearing protection often isn’t enough to protect against some of these noises.
How Can Veterans Deal With Hearing Loss?
Noise related hearing loss can be alleviated with hearing aids even though it can’t be cured. The most prevalent kind of hearing loss among veterans is a diminished ability to hear high-frequency sounds, but this form of hearing impairment can be corrected with specialized hearing aids. Tinnitus is often 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. They shouldn’t have to sacrifice their hearing too.