The men and women who serve our country in uniform too frequently cope with incapacitating physical, mental, and emotional challenges after their service has ended. While healthcare for veterans is a recurring dialogue, relatively little attention has been paid to the most prevalent disabilities diagnosed in veterans: Tinnitus and hearing loss.
Even if you factor in age and occupation, there’s a 30% higher chance of veterans having severe hearing impairment compared to civilians. Though service-related hearing loss has been documented going back to World War 2, the numbers are even more stunning for military personnel who served more recently. Veterans who have served recently are typically among the younger group of service members and are also up to four times more likely to have hearing loss than non-veterans.
Why is The Risk of Hearing Loss Greater For Veterans?
Two words: Noise exposure. Sure, some occupations are noisier than others. Librarians, for example, are usually in a more quiet atmosphere. Thet would most likely be exposed to decibel levels ranging from a whisper (about 30 dB) to standard 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 constantly hear (city traffic, around 85 dB) or sporadically (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 equipment) are prevalent on construction sites according to research.
Construction sites are definitely loud, but individuals in the military are constantly exposed to noise that is a lot louder. In combat scenarios, troops are subjected to gunfire (150 dB), grenades (158 dB), and heavy 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 aviators, noise levels are loud as well, with choppers being well over 100 dB and jets and other planes also being well above 100 dB. Another worry: Certain jet fuels, according to one study, disrupt the auditory process triggering hearing impairment.
And as a 2015 study of hearing loss among military personnel adeptly points out, for the men and women who serve our country, it’s not a choice, it’s a duty. They have to deal with noise exposure in order to accomplish missions and even everyday activities. And even the best performing, standard issue, hearing protection frequently isn’t enough to protect against some of these noises.
How Can Veterans Deal With Hearing Loss?
Noise induced hearing loss can be alleviated with hearing aids even though it can’t be cured. The most common type of hearing loss amongst veterans is a weakened ability to hear high-frequency sounds, but this kind of hearing impairment can be corrected with specialized hearing aids. Tinnitus can’t be cured, but as it’s frequently a symptom of another issue, treatment possibilities are also available.
Veterans have already made lots of sacrifices in serving our country. Hearing shouldn’t have to be one of them.