The men and women who serve our country in uniform too often suffer debilitating mental, physical, and emotional challenges after their service has ended. While healthcare for veterans is a recurring dialogue, relatively little attention has been paid to the most prevalent disabilities diagnosed in veterans: Tinnitus and hearing loss.
Even if you factor in age and occupation, there’s a 30% higher chance of veterans having severe hearing impairment compared to civilians. Though service-related hearing loss has been recognized going back to World War 2, the numbers are even more stunning for military personnel who served more recently. Veterans who have served recently are commonly 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 Veterans at Greater Risk For Hearing Impairment?
The answer is simple: Exposure to noise. Some occupations are obviously noisier than others. As an example, a librarian will be working in a rather quiet environment. Thet would most 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 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 sporadically hear, like the siren of an emergency vehicle (120dB), or constantly, like heavy city traffic, are hazardous to your hearing. 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 settings, troops are exposed to gunfire (150 dB), grenades (158 dB), and heavy artillery (180 dB). But military bases, whether overseas or at home, are not very quiet either. Indoor engine rooms are very loud and the deck of an aircraft carrier can be as loud as 130 – 160 dB. For pilots, noise levels are loud as well, 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 option of opting out, as a 2015 study plainly demonstrates. So that they can complete a mission or perform daily duties, they have to cope with noise exposure. And although hearing protection is standard issue, many of the sounds just described are so loud that even the best-performing hearing protection is not enough.
How Can Veterans Address Hearing Loss?
Although hearing loss due to noise exposure is irreversible, the impairment can be reduced with hearing aids. The most prevalent kind of hearing loss amongst veterans is a decreased ability to hear high-pitch sounds, but this form of hearing impairment can be remedied with specialized hearing aids. Tinnitus is often a symptom of another health issue and although it can’t be cured, there are also treatment solutions for it.
Veterans have already made countless sacrifices in serving our country. Hearing shouldn’t have to be one of them.