When the men and women of our armed forces return home from service, they often suffer from emotional, physical, and mental difficulties. While healthcare for veterans is an ongoing dialogue, relatively little attention has been paid to the most prevalent disabilities diagnosed in veterans: Hearing loss and tinnitus.
Veterans are 30% more likely than civilians to suffer from severe hearing impairment, even when age and occupation are taken into account. Hearing loss, linked 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 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 Impairment Greater For Service Personnel?
Two words: Noise exposure. Some vocations are clearly louder than others. As an example, 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 (standard conversation).
At the other end of the sonic spectrum, for civilians at least, let’s say you’re a construction worker, and you’re 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 revealed that construction equipment noise, everything from power tools to bulldozers, exposes laborers to noises louder than 85 dB.
Construction sites are definitely loud, but individuals in the military are regularly exposed to noise that is far louder. This is definitely true in combat areas, where troops hear sounds 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, noise levels can go from 130-160 dB; engine rooms may be inside (and not have jets taking off), but they’re still incredibly loud. Noise levels for aviators are high too, with helicopters on the low end (around 95-100 dB) and most jets and other aircraft going above 100 dB. Another concern: Certain jet fuels, according to one study, disrupt the auditory process triggering hearing impairment.
Our service men and women don’t have the choice of opting out, as a 2015 study plainly demonstrates. They have to deal with noise exposure so that they accomplish missions and even day-to-day tasks. And although hearing protection is standard issue, lots of the sounds just described are so loud that even the best-performing hearing protection isn’t enough.
How Can Veterans Treat Hearing Loss?
Though hearing loss due to noise exposure is permanent, the impairment can be alleviated with hearing aids. The most prevalent kind of hearing loss amongst veterans is a weakened ability to hear high-pitch sounds, but this kind of hearing loss can be remedied with specialized hearing aids. Tinnitus can’t be cured, but as it’s often a symptom of another problem, treatment solutions are also available.
Veterans have already made lots of sacrifices in serving our country. They shouldn’t have to sacrifice their hearing too.