When the men and women of our armed forces come home from service, they often suffer from physical, emotional, and mental problems. 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.
Veterans are 30% more likely than civilians to suffer from severe hearing impairment, even when age and occupation are taken into account. 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 commonly among the younger group of service members and are also up to four times more likely to have hearing loss than non-veterans.
Why is The Risk of Hearing Loss Greater For Service Personnel?
Two words: Noise exposure. Certainly, some vocations are louder than others. Librarians, for instance, are normally in a more quiet environment. The volume of sound that they would normally be exposed to would be from 30dB (a whisper) to 60 dB (normal conversation).
At the other end of the sonic scale, for civilians at least, let’s say you’re a construction worker, and you work 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. Research has found that construction equipment noise, anything from power tools to heavy loaders, 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 a lot louder. This is definitely true in combat areas, where troops hear noises like gunfire (150 dB), hand grenades (158 dBA), and artillery (180 dB). And it’s not quiet at military bases either. On the deck of an aircraft carrier, sound levels can go from 130-160 dB; engine rooms might be inside (and not have jets taking off), but they’re still extremely loud. For aviators, sound levels are high as well, 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, disrupt the auditory process causing hearing impairment.
And as a 2015 study of hearing loss among military personnel adeptly points out, for the men and women who serve our country, it’s not a choice, it’s a duty. So that they can complete a mission or execute everyday activities, they have to bear with noise exposure. And although hearing protection is standard issue, lots of the sounds just discussed are so loud that even the best-performing hearing protection isn’t enough.
How Can Veterans Treat Hearing Loss?
Noise related hearing loss can be alleviated with hearing aids even though it can’t be cured. The most prevalent type of hearing loss among veterans is a diminished ability to hear high-pitch sounds, but this type of hearing impairment can be corrected with specialized hearing aids. Tinnitus can’t be cured, but as it’s often a symptom of another problem, treatment possibilities are also available.
In serving our country, veterans have already made many sacrifices. They shouldn’t have to sacrifice their hearing too.