The men and women who serve our country in uniform too often suffer debilitating mental, physical, and emotional challenges after their service is finished. While healthcare for veterans is a continuing discussion, relatively little attention has been paid to the most common disabilities diagnosed in veterans: Hearing loss and tinnitus.
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, linked to military service, has been reported at least back to the second world war, but it’s a lot more widespread in veterans who have served more recently. Recent veterans, who are also, on average, among the youngest former service members, are four times more likely than non-veterans to deal with severe hearing impairment.
Why is The Risk of Hearing Loss Greater For Veterans?
Two words: Exposure to noise. Some professions are clearly louder than others. For example, a librarian will be working in a relatively quiet environment. They’d likely be exposed to volumes ranging from a whisper (around 30 dB) to normal conversation (60 dB).
For civilians who are at the other end of the sonic scale, such as an urban construction worker, the danger increases. Background noises you would periodically hear, like the siren of an emergency vehicle (120dB), or constantly, like heavy city traffic, are hazardous to your hearing. Research has shown that construction equipment noise, everything from power tools to heavy loaders, exposes laborers to noises louder than 85 dB.
As loud as a heavy construction site is, active military personnel are regularly subjected to much louder sounds. In combat situations, troops are exposed to gunfire (150 dB), grenades (158 dB), and heavy artillery (180 dB). But military bases, whether overseas or at home, are none too 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 high too, with choppers being well above 100 dB and jets and other planes also being well over 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 option of opting out, as a 2015 study plainly demonstrates. So that they can complete a mission or execute daily duties, they have to bear 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 is not enough.
What Can Veterans do to Address Hearing Loss?
Although 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 loss among veterans and this type of impairment can be managed with specialized hearing aids. Tinnitus is often a symptom of another health issue and though it can’t be cured, there are also treatment solutions for it.
Veterans have already made many sacrifices in serving our country. Hearing shouldn’t have to be one of them.