The men and women who serve our country in uniform too frequently suffer debilitating physical, mental, and emotional challenges after their service has ended. While healthcare for veterans is an ongoing discussion, relatively little attention has been paid to the most common 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 significant hearing impairment compared to non-veterans. Hearing loss, linked to military service, has been recognized at least back to World War 2, but it’s a lot more prevalent in veterans who have served more recently. Veterans who have served recently are commonly among the younger group of service members and are also as much as four times more likely to have hearing loss than non-veterans.
Why Are Veterans at Greater Risk For Hearing Impairment?
Two words: Exposure to noise. Some vocations are clearly noisier than others. For example, a librarian will be working in a fairly quiet setting. The volume of sound that they would usually be exposed to would be from 30dB (a whisper) to 60 dB (standard conversation).
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 constantly hear (city traffic, around 85 dB) or sporadically (an ambulance siren’s around 120 dB) are at hazardous levels, and that’s just background noise. Research has shown that construction equipment noise, everything from power tools to bulldozers, exposes laborers to noises louder than 85 dB.
Construction sites are definitely loud, but individuals in the military are regularly exposed to noise that is far louder. This is definitely true in combat settings, where troops hear sounds like gunfire (150 dB), hand grenades (158 dBA), and 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, sound levels are high also, with helicopters being well above 100 dB and jets and other planes also being well above 100 dB. Another concern: One study found that exposure to some forms of jet fuel seems to cause hearing loss by disrupting auditory processing.
Our service men and women don’t have the option of opting out, as a 2015 study plainly demonstrates. They have to deal with noise exposure in order to complete missions and even everyday activities. And although hearing protection is standard issue, many of the sounds just described are so loud that even the best-performing hearing protection isn’t enough.
What Can Veterans do to Address Hearing Loss?
Noise related hearing loss can be reduced with hearing aids even though it can’t be cured. The most prevalent kind of hearing loss among 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 often a symptom of another health issue and though it can’t be cured, there are also treatment options for it.
Veterans have already made many sacrifices in serving our country. They shouldn’t have to sacrifice their hearing too.