When the men and women of our armed forces come home from service, they often suffer from physical, emotional, and mental difficulties. Within the continuing dialogue about veteran’s healthcare, the most commonly diagnosed disability is often relatively neglected: Tinnitus and hearing loss.
Veterans are 30% more likely than non-veterans to suffer from severe hearing impairment, even when occupation and age are taken into account. Even though service-related hearing loss has been reported going back to the second World War, 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 up to four times more likely to have hearing loss than non-veterans.
Why Are Veterans at Greater Risk For Hearing Loss?
Two words: Exposure to noise. Certainly, some occupations are noisier than others. Librarians, for instance, are usually in a more quiet setting. The sound level that they would normally be exposed to would be from 30dB (a whisper) to 60 dB (normal conversation).
At the other end of the sonic spectrum, for civilians anyway, let’s say you’re a construction worker, and you work on a job site that’s in the city. Sounds you’d continuously hear (city traffic, about 85 dB) or sporadically (an ambulance siren’s around 120 dB) are at harmful levels, and that’s only background noise. Research has shown that construction equipment noise, anything from power tools to heavy loaders, exposes laborers to sounds louder than 85 dB.
Construction sites are definitely loud, but people in the military are regularly exposed to noise that is much louder. This is certainly true in combat areas, 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. On the deck of an aircraft carrier, sound levels can range from 130-160 dB; engine rooms may be indoors (and no jets), but they’re still extremely loud. Noise levels for pilots are high as well, with helicopters on the low end (about 95-100 dB) and the majority of jets and other aircraft going above 100 dB. Another concern: One study revealed that exposure to some kinds of jet fuel seems 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 in order to complete missions and even day-to-day activities. And even the best performing, standard issue, hearing protection often isn’t enough to protect against some of these noises.
What Can Veterans do to Deal With Hearing Loss?
Although hearing loss due to noise exposure is permanent, the impairment can be alleviated with hearing aids. The most common kind of hearing loss amongst veterans is a decreased ability to hear high-frequency sounds, but this form of hearing impairment can be remedied with specialized hearing aids. Tinnitus can’t be cured, but as it’s often a symptom of another problem, treatment options are also available.
Veterans have already made countless sacrifices in serving our country. They shouldn’t have to sacrifice their hearing too.