When the men and women of our armed forces return home from service, they often suffer from emotional, physical, and mental problems. While healthcare for veterans is a recurring dialogue, relatively little attention has been paid to the most common disabilities diagnosed in veterans: Hearing loss and tinnitus.
Even if you factor in age and occupation, there’s a 30% higher chance of veterans having significant hearing impairment compared to non-veterans. Hearing loss, related to military service, has been documented at least back to the second world war, but it’s much more widespread in veterans who have served more recently. Veterans who have served recently are generally among the younger group of service members and are also up to four times more likely to have hearing loss than non-veterans.
Why is The Risk of Hearing Impairment Greater For Service Personnel?
The answer is simple: Exposure to noise. Sure, some occupations are noisier 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 (standard conversation).
For civilians who are at the other end of the sonic spectrum, like a city construction worker, the danger rises. Sounds you’d continuously 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. Research has revealed that construction equipment noise, anything from power tools to bulldozers, exposes workers to noises louder than 85 dB.
Construction sites are definitely loud, but individuals in the military are constantly exposed to noise that is far louder. This is certainly true in combat areas, where troops hear sounds like gunfire (150 dB), hand grenades (158 dBA), and artillery (180 dB). And it isn’t quiet at military bases either. On the deck of an aircraft carrier, sound levels can go from 130-160 dB; engine rooms might be indoors (and not have jets taking off), but they’re still incredibly loud. Noise levels for aviators are high too, with choppers on the low end (about 95-100 dB) and the majority of jets and other aircraft going above 100 dB. Another worry: One study found 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 amongst military personnel adeptly highlights, for the men and women who serve our country, opting out is not an option. So that they can complete a mission or carry out day to day duties, they have to deal with noise exposure. And even though hearing protection is standard issue, many of the sounds just described are so loud that even the best-performing hearing protection isn’t enough.
How Can Veterans Address Hearing Loss?
Noise induced hearing loss can be eased with hearing aids even though it can’t be cured. The loss of high-frequency sound is the most prevalent kind of hearing impairment 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 possibilities are also available.
Veterans have already made lots of sacrifices in serving our country. Hearing shouldn’t have to be one of them.