The men and women who serve our country in uniform too often endure debilitating physical, mental, and emotional difficulties after their service has ended. Within the continuing discussion about veteran’s healthcare, the most commonly diagnosed disability is often relatively neglected: Tinnitus and hearing loss.
Veterans are 30% more likely than non-veterans to suffer from severe hearing impairment, even when age and occupation are taken into account. Hearing loss, related to military service, has been recognized at least back to the second world war, but it’s far 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 impairment than non-veterans.
Why Are Service Personnel at Greater Risk For Hearing Loss?
The answer is simple: Exposure to noise. Sure, 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 (standard conversation).
For civilians who are at the other end of the sonic scale, such as a city construction worker, the danger increases. Sounds you’d constantly hear (city traffic, about 85 dB) or periodically (an ambulance siren’s about 120 dB) are at unsafe levels, and that’s only background noise. Noises louder than 85dB (from power tools to heavy machinery) are prevalent on construction sites according to research.
As noisy as a heavy construction site is, active military personnel are constantly subjected to much louder sounds. In combat settings, troops are exposed to gunfire (150 dB), grenades (158 dB), and heavy artillery (180 dB). But military bases, whether at home or overseas, are none too quiet either. On the deck of an aircraft carrier, noise levels can go from 130-160 dB; engine rooms might be indoors (and not have jets taking off), but they’re still incredibly loud. For pilots, noise levels are loud as well, with choppers being well above 100 dB and jets and other planes also being well over 100 dB. Another concern: One study found that exposure to some forms of jet fuel appears to cause hearing loss by interrupting auditory processing.
Our service men and women don’t have the choice of opting out, as a 2015 study plainly demonstrates. They need to contend with noise exposure in order to complete missions and even everyday activities. And even the best performing, standard issue, hearing protection often isn’t enough to protect against some of these noises.
How Can Veterans Treat Hearing Loss?
Though hearing loss due to noise exposure is permanent, the impairment can be reduced with hearing aids. The loss of high-frequency sound is the most common form of hearing impairment among veterans and this type of impairment can be managed with specialized hearing aids. Tinnitus can’t be cured, but as it’s often a symptom of another problem, treatment solutions are also available.
In serving our country, veterans have already made many sacrifices. They shouldn’t have to sacrifice their hearing too.