When the men and women of our armed forces return home from service, they often suffer from emotional, physical, and mental challenges. Within the continuing discussion about veteran’s healthcare, the most frequently diagnosed disability is often relatively disregarded: Hearing loss and tinnitus.
Even if you take into account age and occupation, there’s a 30% higher chance of veterans having significant hearing impairment compared to civilians. Though service-related hearing loss has been reported going back to the second World War, 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 impairment than non-veterans.
Why is The Risk of Hearing Loss Greater For Veterans?
The answer is simple: Exposure to noise. Some occupations are obviously louder than others. Librarians, for instance, are usually in a more quiet environment. They’d likely be exposed to volumes ranging from a whisper (about 30 dB) to normal conversation (60 dB).
For civilians who are at the other end of the sonic spectrum, like an urban construction worker, the hazard rises. Sounds you’d constantly hear (heavy traffic, around 85 dB) or periodically (an ambulance siren’s about 120 dB) are at harmful levels, and that’s just background noise. Sounds louder than 85dB (from power tools to heavy equipment) are prevalent on construction sites according to research.
As noisy as a heavy construction site is, active military personnel are constantly subjected to much louder noises. In combat settings, 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 very loud and the deck of an aircraft carrier can be as loud as 130 – 160 dB. For pilots, noise levels are high as well, with helicopters being well above 100 dB and jets and other planes also being well over 100 dB. Another worry: One study discovered that exposure to some types of jet fuel appears to cause hearing loss by interrupting auditory processing.
Our service men and women don’t have the option of opting out, as a 2015 study clearly demonstrates. They need to deal with noise exposure so that they accomplish missions and even everyday tasks. And although hearing protection is standard issue, many of the sounds just discussed are so loud that even the best-performing hearing protection is not enough.
What Can Veterans do to Treat Hearing Loss?
Noise induced hearing loss can be alleviated with hearing aids even though it can’t be cured. The most prevalent kind of hearing loss amongst veterans is a diminished ability to hear high-frequency sounds, but this form of hearing impairment can be remedied with specialized hearing aids. Tinnitus is frequently a symptom of another health issue and although it can’t be cured, there are also treatment solutions for it.
Veterans have already made lots of sacrifices in serving our country. Hearing shouldn’t have to be one of them.