When the men and women of our armed forces return home from service, they often suffer from emotional, physical, and mental challenges. Within the continuing discussion concerning veteran’s healthcare, the most frequently diagnosed disability is often relatively ignored: Tinnitus and hearing loss.
Veterans are 30% more likely than civilians to suffer from significant hearing impairment, even when occupation and age 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 prevalent in veterans who have served more recently. Veterans who have served recently are commonly 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 is The Risk of Hearing Loss Greater For Veterans?
Two words: Noise exposure. Some professions are obviously noisier than others. For instance, a librarian will be working in a rather quiet environment. The volume of sound that they would usually be exposed to would be from 30dB (a whisper) to 60 dB (average 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. Sounds you’d continuously hear (city traffic, around 85 dB) or periodically (an ambulance siren’s around 120 dB) are at hazardous levels, and that’s just background noise. Noises louder than 85dB (from power tools to heavy machinery) are common on construction sites according to research.
Construction sites are definitely loud, but individuals in the military are constantly exposed to noise that is far louder. This is certainly true in combat settings, 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 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. Noise levels for pilots are high as well, with helicopters on the low end (around 95-100 dB) and the majority of jets and other aircraft going above 100 dB. Another worry: One study discovered that exposure to some types of jet fuel seems to cause hearing loss by interrupting auditory processing.
Our service men and women don’t have the option of opting out, as a 2015 study plainly demonstrates. In order to complete a mission or perform day to day activities, they have to bear 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 Deal With Hearing Loss?
Though hearing loss due to noise exposure is permanent, the impairment can be reduced with hearing aids. The most common kind of hearing loss among veterans is a diminished ability to hear high-pitch sounds, but this type of hearing loss can be remedied with specialized hearing aids. Tinnitus can’t be cured, but as it’s frequently a symptom of another issue, treatment possibilities are also available.
In serving our country, veterans have already made many sacrifices. They shouldn’t have to sacrifice their hearing too.