The men and women who serve our country in uniform too often cope with incapacitating mental, physical, and emotional difficulties after their service has ended. Within the continuing discussion about veteran’s healthcare, the most commonly diagnosed disability is often relatively overlooked: Hearing loss and tinnitus.
Veterans are 30% more likely than non-veterans to deal with severe hearing impairment, even when occupation and age are factored in. Even 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 suffer from severe hearing impairment.
Why Are Veterans at Greater Risk For Hearing Loss?
The answer is simple: Exposure to noise. Some professions are clearly louder than others. For instance, a librarian will be working in a relatively quiet environment. The volume of sound that they would usually be exposed to would be from 30dB (a whisper) to 60 dB (standard conversation).
For civilians who are at the other end of the sonic scale, like an urban construction worker, the hazard increases. Sounds you’d constantly hear (city traffic, around 85 dB) or periodically (an ambulance siren’s about 120 dB) are at hazardous 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.
Construction sites are undoubtedly loud, but people in the military are regularly exposed to noise that is far louder. This is certainly true in combat settings, where troops hear noises like gunfire (150 dB), hand grenades (158 dBA), and artillery (180 dB). And it’s not quiet at military bases either. On the deck of an aircraft carrier, noise levels can range from 130-160 dB; engine rooms may be inside (and not have jets taking off), but they’re still very loud. For pilots, noise levels are high also, with helicopters being well above 100 dB and jets and other planes also being well above 100 dB. Another worry: One study discovered that exposure to some types of jet fuel appears to cause hearing impairment 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 cope with noise exposure in order to accomplish missions and even everyday tasks. And even the best performing, standard issue, hearing protection often isn’t enough to protect against some of these noises.
What Can Veterans do to Address 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 prevalent kind of hearing loss among veterans and this kind of impairment can be treated with specialized hearing aids. Tinnitus can’t be cured, but as it’s frequently a symptom of another issue, treatment solutions are also available.
Veterans have already made countless sacrifices in serving our country. Hearing shouldn’t have to be one of them.