The men and women who serve our country in uniform too often suffer incapacitating mental, physical, and emotional challenges after their service has ended. While healthcare for veterans is a recurring discussion, relatively little attention has been paid to the most prevalent disabilities diagnosed in veterans: Tinnitus and hearing loss.
Even if you take into account age and occupation, there’s a 30% higher chance of veterans having severe hearing impairment compared to civilians. Hearing loss, linked to military service, has been recognized at least back to World War 2, but it’s much more prevalent in veterans who have served more recently. Veterans who have served recently are generally 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 Service Personnel?
Two words: Exposure to noise. Some occupations are clearly noisier than others. For example, a librarian will be working in a relatively quiet setting. They’d likely be exposed to volumes ranging from a whisper (about 30 dB) to standard conversation (60 dB).
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. Sounds you’d continuously hear (city traffic, around 85 dB) or periodically (an ambulance siren’s around 120 dB) are at unsafe levels, and that’s only 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 a lot louder. This is certainly 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 pilots are high as well, with helicopters on the low end (about 95-100 dB) and most jets and other aircraft going above 100 dB. Another concern: One study found that exposure to some types of jet fuel seems to cause hearing impairment by disrupting auditory processing.
And as a 2015 study of hearing loss amongst military personnel adeptly highlights, 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 complete missions and even everyday tasks. And even the best performing, standard issue, hearing protection frequently isn’t enough to protect against some of these noises.
How Can Veterans Address Hearing Loss?
Noise induced hearing loss can be eased 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 kind of hearing loss can be corrected with specialized hearing aids. Tinnitus is frequently a symptom of another health issue and though it can’t be cured, there are also treatment solutions for it.
Veterans have already made many sacrifices in serving our country. Hearing shouldn’t have to be one of them.