The men and women who serve our country in uniform too often endure incapacitating physical, mental, and emotional challenges after their service is finished. Within the continuing discussion about veteran’s healthcare, the most frequently diagnosed disability is often relatively overlooked: Tinnitus and hearing loss.
Veterans are 30% more likely than non-veterans to deal with significant hearing impairment, even when age and occupation are factored in. Even though service-related hearing loss has been documented going back to World War 2, the numbers are even more dramatic for military personnel who served more recently. Veterans who have served recently are typically among the younger group of service members and are also as much as four times more likely to have hearing impairment than non-veterans.
Why Are Veterans at Greater Risk For Hearing Loss?
Two words: Noise exposure. Some occupations are obviously louder than others. For example, a librarian will be working in a fairly quiet environment. The sound level that they would usually 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 spectrum, such as a city construction worker, the hazard rises. Sounds you’d continuously hear (heavy traffic, about 85 dB) or sporadically (an ambulance siren’s around 120 dB) are at hazardous levels, and that’s only background noise. Research has found that construction equipment noise, everything from power tools to heavy loaders, exposes laborers to noises louder than 85 dB.
Construction sites are undoubtedly loud, but people in the military are constantly exposed to noise that is much louder. This is definitely true in combat settings, where troops hear noises like gunfire (150 dB), hand grenades (158 dBA), and artillery (180 dB). And it isn’t 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. Noise levels for aviators are high too, with choppers on the low end (around 95-100 dB) and the majority of jets and other aircraft going above 100 dB. Another worry: Some 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 clearly demonstrates. In order to complete a mission or carry out day to day tasks, they have to deal with noise exposure. And even the best performing, standard issue, hearing protection frequently isn’t enough to protect against some of these noises.
How Can Veterans Address Hearing Loss?
Even though hearing loss due to noise exposure is permanent, the impairment can be reduced with hearing aids. The loss of high-frequency sound is the most prevalent type of hearing impairment among veterans and this type 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 options are also available.
In serving our country, veterans have already made many sacrifices. They shouldn’t have to sacrifice their hearing too.