When the men and women of our armed forces come home from service, they frequently suffer from emotional, physical, and mental problems. Within the continuing discussion about veteran’s healthcare, the most frequently diagnosed disability is often relatively disregarded: 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. Hearing loss, linked to military service, has been documented at least back to World War 2, but it’s far more widespread in veterans who have served more recently. Recent veterans, who are also, typically, among the youngest former service members, are four times more likely than non-veterans to deal with severe hearing impairment.
Why Are Service Personnel at Greater Risk For Hearing Impairment?
The answer is simple: Exposure to noise. Certainly, some occupations are louder than others. For example, a librarian will be working in a relatively quiet setting. Thet would likely be exposed to decibel levels ranging from a whisper (about 30 dB) to normal conversation (60 dB).
At the other end of the sonic spectrum, for civilians anyway, 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 (heavy traffic, around 85 dB) or sporadically (an ambulance siren’s about 120 dB) are at harmful levels, and that’s just background noise. Research has found that construction equipment noise, anything from power tools to heavy loaders, exposes laborers to sounds louder than 85 dB.
As noisy as a heavy construction site is, active military personnel are constantly subjected to much louder sounds. This is certainly true in combat areas, where troops hear noises 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 extremely loud. For pilots, sound levels are loud also, with choppers being well above 100 dB and jets and other planes also being well above 100 dB. Another concern: One study found that exposure to some forms of jet fuel seems to cause hearing loss by disrupting auditory processing.
Our service men and women don’t have the option of opting out, as a 2015 study plainly demonstrates. They need to cope with noise exposure so that they accomplish missions and even daily activities. And even the best performing, standard issue, hearing protection often isn’t enough to protect against some of these noises.
What Can Veterans do to Deal With Hearing Loss?
Noise induced hearing loss can be reduced with hearing aids even though it can’t be cured. The most common kind of hearing loss among veterans is a decreased ability to hear high-pitch sounds, but this form of hearing impairment can be corrected with specialized hearing aids. Tinnitus can’t be cured, but as it’s frequently a symptom of another problem, treatment options are also available.
In serving our country, veterans have already made lots of sacrifices. They shouldn’t have to sacrifice their hearing too.