The men and women who serve our country in uniform too often endure debilitating physical, mental, and emotional challenges after their service has ended. While healthcare for veterans is a continuing discussion, relatively little attention has been paid to the most common disabilities diagnosed in veterans: Hearing loss and tinnitus.
Even if you take into account age and occupation, there’s a 30% higher chance of veterans having significant hearing impairment compared to civilians. Though service-related hearing loss has been documented going back to the second World War, the numbers are even more stunning for military personnel who 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 Are Veterans at Greater Risk For Hearing Impairment?
The answer is simple: Exposure to noise. Sure, some vocations are louder than others. Librarians, for instance, are usually in a more quiet environment. Thet would likely be exposed to decibel levels ranging from a whisper (about 30 dB) to average conversation (60 dB).
For civilians who are at the other end of the sonic spectrum, like an urban construction worker, the hazard increases. Sounds you’d constantly hear (heavy traffic, about 85 dB) or sporadically (an ambulance siren’s around 120 dB) are at harmful levels, and that’s just background noise. Noises louder than 85dB (from power tools to heavy equipment) are common on construction sites according to research.
Construction sites are undoubtedly loud, but individuals in the military are regularly exposed to noise that is much louder. This is definitely true in combat settings, 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. On the deck of an aircraft carrier, sound levels can range from 130-160 dB; engine rooms might be inside (and no jets), but they’re still extremely loud. Noise levels for aviators are high as well, with choppers on the low end (around 95-100 dB) and most jets and other aircraft going above 100 dB. Another worry: One study revealed that exposure to some kinds of jet fuel appears to cause hearing loss by interrupting auditory processing.
And as a 2015 study of hearing loss among military personnel aptly points out, for the men and women who serve our country, opting out is not an option. They need to deal with noise exposure so that they accomplish missions and even everyday tasks. 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?
Noise related hearing loss can be eased with hearing aids even though it can’t be cured. The most prevalent type of hearing loss amongst veterans is a weakened ability to hear high-frequency sounds, but this kind of hearing loss can be corrected with specialized hearing aids. Tinnitus can’t be cured, but as it’s often 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.