When the men and women of our armed forces return home from service, they often suffer from emotional, physical, and mental challenges. While healthcare for veterans is a continuing discussion, relatively little attention has been paid to the most common disabilities diagnosed in veterans: Tinnitus and hearing loss.
Veterans are 30% more likely than non-veterans to deal with severe hearing impairment, even when occupation and age are factored in. Hearing loss, related to military service, has been recognized at least back to the second world war, but it’s much more widespread in veterans who have served more recently. Veterans who have served recently are typically 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: Exposure to noise. Certainly, some vocations are louder than others. For example, a librarian will be working in a fairly quiet environment. The volume of sound that they would usually be exposed to would be from 30dB (a whisper) to 60 dB (standard conversation).
For civilians who are at the other end of the sonic spectrum, such as a city construction worker, the danger increases. Background noises you would periodically hear, like the siren of an emergency vehicle (120dB), or continuously, like heavy city traffic, are harmful to your hearing. Research has found that construction equipment noise, everything from power tools to heavy loaders, exposes workers to sounds louder than 85 dB.
Construction sites are definitely loud, but individuals in the military are regularly exposed to noise that is a lot louder. In combat situations, troops are subjected to gunfire (150 dB), grenades (158 dB), and heavy artillery (180 dB). And it isn’t quiet at military bases 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 too, with choppers on the low end (about 95-100 dB) and the majority of jets and other aircraft going above 100 dB. Another concern: Certain jet fuels, according to one study, interrupt the auditory process triggering hearing impairment.
Our service men and women don’t have the option of opting out, as a 2015 study clearly demonstrates. They have to cope with noise exposure so that they accomplish missions and even everyday activities. And although hearing protection is standard issue, many of the sounds just outlined are so loud that even the best-performing hearing protection isn’t enough.
How Can Veterans Address Hearing Loss?
Noise related hearing loss can be alleviated with hearing aids even though it can’t be cured. The most prevalent type of hearing loss among veterans is a weakened ability to hear high-frequency sounds, but this kind of hearing loss can be corrected with specialized hearing aids. Tinnitus can’t be cured, but as it’s often a symptom of another issue, treatment possibilities are also available.
Veterans have already made countless sacrifices in serving our country. They shouldn’t have to sacrifice their hearing too.