The men and women who serve our country in uniform too often endure debilitating physical, mental, and emotional difficulties after their service has ended. While healthcare for veterans is a recurring dialogue, relatively little attention has been paid to the most prevalent 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 severe hearing impairment compared to non-veterans. 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. 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 impairment than non-veterans.
Why Are Service Personnel at Greater Risk For Hearing Loss?
The answer is simple: Noise exposure. Some occupations are clearly louder than others. For instance, a librarian will be working in a fairly quiet setting. They’d most likely be exposed to decibel levels ranging from a whisper (about 30 dB) to normal conversation (60 dB).
For civilians who are at the other end of the sonic spectrum, such as an urban construction worker, the danger increases. Background noises you would sporadically hear, like the siren of an emergency vehicle (120dB), or continuously, like heavy city traffic, are harmful to your hearing. Research has shown that construction equipment noise, everything from power tools to bulldozers, exposes workers to sounds louder than 85 dB.
Construction sites are undoubtedly loud, but individuals in the military are constantly exposed to noise that is far louder. This is definitely true in combat settings, where troops hear noises like gunfire (150 dB), hand grenades (158 dBA), and artillery (180 dB). But military bases, whether at home or overseas, are not very quiet either. On the deck of an aircraft carrier, noise levels can go from 130-160 dB; engine rooms might be indoors (and not have jets taking off), but they’re still very loud. Noise levels for pilots are high as well, with choppers on the low end (around 95-100 dB) and the majority of jets and other aircraft going above 100 dB. Another worry: One study found that exposure to some forms of jet fuel appears to cause hearing impairment by disrupting auditory processing.
And as a 2015 study of hearing loss among military personnel aptly highlights, for the men and women who serve our country, opting out is not an option. So that they can complete a mission or perform daily tasks, they have to deal with noise exposure. And although hearing protection is standard issue, lots of the sounds just described are so loud that even the best-performing hearing protection is not enough.
How Can Veterans Address Hearing Loss?
Although hearing loss due to noise exposure is permanent, the impairment can be reduced with hearing aids. The most common type of hearing loss among veterans is a diminished ability to hear high-frequency sounds, but this type of hearing impairment can be corrected with specialized hearing aids. Tinnitus is frequently 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.