When the men and women of our armed forces come home from service, they frequently suffer from emotional, physical, and mental challenges. Within the continuing dialogue about veteran’s healthcare, the most frequently diagnosed disability is often relatively neglected: Hearing loss and tinnitus.
Veterans are 30% more likely than non-veterans to suffer from severe hearing impairment, even when age and occupation are taken into account. Hearing loss, related to military service, has been reported at least back to World War 2, but it’s a lot more widespread in veterans who have served more recently. Veterans who have served recently are commonly among the younger group of service members and are also up to four times more likely to have hearing impairment than non-veterans.
Why is The Risk of Hearing Loss Greater For Veterans?
Two words: Exposure to noise. Certainly, some occupations are noisier than others. For instance, a librarian will be working in a relatively quiet setting. They’d most likely be exposed to volumes ranging from a whisper (around 30 dB) to standard 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’re on a job site that’s in the city. Background noises you would periodically 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 a lot louder. In combat situations, troops are subjected to gunfire (150 dB), grenades (158 dB), and heavy artillery (180 dB). And it isn’t quiet at military bases either. On the deck of an aircraft carrier, noise levels can go from 130-160 dB; engine rooms might be inside (and no jets), but they’re still very loud. For pilots, noise levels are high as well, with choppers being well over 100 dB and jets and other planes also being well over 100 dB. Another concern: One study found that exposure to some forms of jet fuel seems to cause hearing loss by interrupting auditory processing.
Our service men and women don’t have the choice of opting out, as a 2015 study clearly demonstrates. So that they can complete a mission or carry out daily duties, 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 eased with hearing aids. The loss of high-pitch sound is the most common form of hearing impairment among veterans and this type of impairment can be treated with specialized hearing aids. Tinnitus is frequently a symptom of another health issue and though it can’t be cured, there are also treatment solutions for it.
Veterans have already made many sacrifices in serving our country. Hearing shouldn’t have to be one of them.