The men and women who serve our country in uniform too frequently endure incapacitating mental, physical, and emotional challenges after their service has ended. Within the continuing discussion about veteran’s healthcare, the most commonly diagnosed disability is often relatively ignored: Hearing loss and tinnitus.
Even if you factor in age and occupation, there’s a 30% higher chance of veterans having severe hearing impairment compared to non-veterans. 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. Recent veterans, who are also, on average, among the youngest former service members, are four times more likely than non-veterans to suffer from severe hearing impairment.
Why Are Veterans at Greater Risk For Hearing Impairment?
Two words: Noise exposure. Some professions are obviously louder than others. Librarians, for example, are usually in a more quiet atmosphere. The sound level that they would normally be exposed to would be from 30dB (a whisper) to 60 dB (average conversation).
At the other end of the sonic spectrum, for civilians at least, let’s say you’re a construction worker, and you work on a job site that’s in the city. Sounds you’d continuously hear (city traffic, around 85 dB) or periodically (an ambulance siren’s about 120 dB) are at harmful levels, and that’s just background noise. Noises louder than 85dB (from power tools to heavy machinery) are prevalent on construction sites according to research.
Construction sites are undoubtedly loud, but people in the military are constantly exposed to noise that is far louder. This is certainly true in combat areas, where troops hear sounds like gunfire (150 dB), hand grenades (158 dBA), and artillery (180 dB). But military bases, whether at home or overseas, are none too quiet either. Indoor engine rooms are really loud and the deck of an aircraft carrier can be as loud as 130 – 160 dB. For pilots, noise levels are high too, with helicopters being well above 100 dB and jets and other planes also being well above 100 dB. Another concern: Certain jet fuels, according to one study, disrupt the auditory process triggering hearing impairment.
And as a 2015 study of hearing loss amongst military personnel aptly shows, for the men and women who serve our country, it’s not a choice, it’s a duty. In order to complete a mission or perform everyday duties, they have to cope 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 Address Hearing Loss?
Even though hearing loss due to noise exposure is permanent, the impairment can be eased with hearing aids. The most prevalent kind of hearing loss among veterans is a weakened ability to hear high-pitch sounds, but this kind of hearing impairment can be remedied with specialized hearing aids. Tinnitus can’t be cured, but as it’s frequently a symptom of another issue, treatment solutions are also available.
Veterans have already made many sacrifices in serving our country. Hearing shouldn’t have to be one of them.