When the men and women of our armed forces return home from service, they often suffer from physical, emotional, and mental hardships. While healthcare for veterans is an ongoing discussion, relatively little attention has been paid to the most prevalent disabilities diagnosed in veterans: Hearing loss and tinnitus.
Even if you take into account 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 reported going back to World War 2, the numbers are even more stunning for military personnel who served more recently. Recent veterans, who are also, on average, among the youngest former service members, are four times more likely than non-veterans to endure severe hearing impairment.
Why is The Risk of Hearing Impairment Greater For Service Personnel?
The answer is simple: Exposure to noise. Some occupations are obviously louder than others. Librarians, for example, are normally in a more quiet atmosphere. The sound level that they would usually be exposed to would be from 30dB (a whisper) to 60 dB (normal conversation).
At the other end of the sonic scale, for civilians anyway, let’s say you’re a construction worker, and you work on a job site that’s in the city. Background noises you would periodically hear, like the siren of an emergency vehicle (120dB), or continuously, like heavy city traffic, are hazardous to your hearing. Noises louder than 85dB (from power tools to heavy machinery) are prevalent on construction sites according to research.
Construction sites are undoubtedly loud, but individuals in the military are regularly exposed to noise that is much louder. In combat scenarios, troops are subjected to gunfire (150 dB), grenades (158 dB), and heavy artillery (180 dB). But military bases, whether overseas or at home, are not very quiet either. Indoor engine rooms are really loud and the deck of an aircraft carrier can be as loud as 130 – 160 dB. For pilots, noise levels are high too, with helicopters 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, interrupt the auditory process causing hearing impairment.
And as a 2015 study of hearing loss amongst military personnel aptly highlights, for the men and women who serve our country, it’s not a choice, it’s a duty. In order to complete a mission or execute everyday duties, they have to bear with noise exposure. And even though 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 Deal With Hearing Loss?
Noise induced hearing loss can be eased with hearing aids even though it can’t be cured. The loss of high-pitch sound is the most common form of hearing loss among veterans and this kind of impairment can be managed with specialized hearing aids. Tinnitus is often a symptom of another health problem and though it can’t be cured, there are also treatment solutions for it.
Veterans have already made countless sacrifices in serving our country. Hearing shouldn’t have to be one of them.