When the men and women of our armed forces return home from service, they frequently suffer from physical, emotional, and mental hardships. Within the continuing dialogue about veteran’s healthcare, the most commonly diagnosed disability is often relatively neglected: Tinnitus and hearing loss.
Veterans are 30% more likely than civilians to suffer from significant hearing impairment, even when age and occupation are factored in. Even though service-related hearing loss has been reported going back to World War 2, the numbers are even more dramatic 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 Are Service Personnel at Greater Risk For Hearing Impairment?
Two words: Noise exposure. Sure, some vocations are louder than others. Librarians, for instance, are normally in a more quiet setting. They’d likely be exposed to decibel levels ranging from a whisper (around 30 dB) to average 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 work on a job site that’s in the city. Sounds you’d constantly hear (heavy traffic, about 85 dB) or periodically (an ambulance siren’s around 120 dB) are at harmful levels, and that’s only background noise. Sounds louder than 85dB (from power tools to heavy equipment) are prevalent on construction sites according to research.
Construction sites are undoubtedly loud, but people in the military are regularly exposed to noise that is far louder. In combat situations, troops are subjected to gunfire (150 dB), grenades (158 dB), and heavy artillery (180 dB). And it’s not quiet at military bases 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 loud too, with choppers being well above 100 dB and jets and other planes also being well over 100 dB. Another concern: Certain jet fuels, according to one study, interrupt the auditory process causing hearing impairment.
Our service men and women don’t have the choice of opting out, as a 2015 study plainly demonstrates. They need to contend with noise exposure in order to complete missions and even everyday activities. And although hearing protection is standard issue, lots 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 loss of high-pitch sound is the most common kind of hearing loss among veterans and this kind of impairment can be managed with specialized hearing aids. Tinnitus can’t be cured, but as it’s frequently 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.