When the men and women of our armed forces return home from service, they frequently suffer from physical, emotional, and mental difficulties. Within the continuing discussion about veteran’s healthcare, the most commonly diagnosed disability is often relatively ignored: Hearing loss and tinnitus.
Veterans are 30% more likely than non-veterans to deal with significant hearing impairment, even when age and occupation are factored in. Though service-related hearing loss has been documented going back to the second World War, 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 Veterans at Greater Risk For Hearing Impairment?
Two words: Noise exposure. Sure, some vocations are louder than others. Librarians, for example, are normally in a more quiet atmosphere. The volume of sound that they would normally be exposed to would be from 30dB (a whisper) to 60 dB (average conversation).
For civilians who are at the other end of the sonic scale, like a city construction worker, the hazard increases. Sounds you’d constantly hear (city traffic, about 85 dB) or sporadically (an ambulance siren’s about 120 dB) are at harmful 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.
As noisy as a heavy construction site is, active military personnel are constantly exposed to much louder noises. This is definitely 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. Indoor engine rooms are very loud and the deck of an aircraft carrier can be as loud as 130 – 160 dB. For aviators, sound levels are high as well, with helicopters being well above 100 dB and jets and other planes also being well above 100 dB. Another worry: Certain jet fuels, according to one study, disrupt the auditory process triggering hearing impairment.
Our service men and women don’t have the option of opting out, as a 2015 study plainly demonstrates. In order to complete a mission or perform day to day activities, they have to bear with noise exposure. And although hearing protection is standard issue, lots of the sounds just outlined are so loud that even the best-performing hearing protection isn’t enough.
How Can Veterans Address Hearing Loss?
Noise related hearing loss can be reduced with hearing aids even though it can’t be cured. The loss of high-frequency sound is the most common kind of hearing impairment 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 problem, treatment solutions are also available.
In serving our country, veterans have already made lots of sacrifices. Hearing shouldn’t have to be one of them.