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 an ongoing discussion, relatively little attention has been paid to the most prevalent 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 civilians. Hearing loss, linked 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. Recent veterans, who are also, on average, among the youngest former service members, are four times more likely than non-veterans to endure severe hearing impairment.
Why Are Veterans at Greater Risk For Hearing Loss?
The answer is simple: Noise exposure. Sure, some occupations are noisier than others. For instance, a librarian will be working in a relatively quiet environment. The volume of sound 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 at least, let’s say you’re a construction worker, and you work on a job site that’s in the city. Background noises you would sporadically hear, such as the siren of an emergency vehicle (120dB), or constantly, like heavy city traffic, are harmful to your hearing. Research has revealed that construction equipment noise, anything from power tools to heavy loaders, exposes workers to noises louder than 85 dB.
As noisy as a heavy construction site is, active military personnel are constantly exposed to much louder sounds. In combat situations, troops are subjected to gunfire (150 dB), grenades (158 dB), and heavy 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 inside (and not have jets taking off), but they’re still extremely loud. For aviators, noise levels are loud too, with helicopters being well above 100 dB and jets and other planes also being well over 100 dB. Another concern: Certain jet fuels, according to one study, disrupt the auditory process triggering hearing impairment.
Our service men and women don’t have the choice of opting out, as a 2015 study plainly demonstrates. So that they can complete a mission or carry out daily tasks, they have to deal with noise exposure. And although hearing protection is standard issue, lots of the sounds just outlined are so loud that even the best-performing hearing protection isn’t enough.
How Can Veterans Deal With Hearing Loss?
Even though hearing loss due to noise exposure is irreversible, the impairment can be reduced with hearing aids. The most prevalent kind of hearing loss among veterans is a decreased ability to hear high-pitch sounds, but this form of hearing loss can be corrected with specialized hearing aids. Tinnitus can’t be cured, but as it’s frequently a symptom of another problem, treatment possibilities are also available.
In serving our country, veterans have already made lots of sacrifices. Hearing shouldn’t have to be one of them.