When the men and women of our armed forces return home from service, they frequently suffer from emotional, physical, and mental problems. Within the continuing discussion concerning veteran’s healthcare, the most commonly diagnosed disability is often relatively overlooked: Tinnitus and hearing loss.
Even if you take into account age and occupation, there’s a 30% higher chance of veterans having severe 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, generally, among the youngest former service members, are four times more likely than non-veterans to endure severe hearing impairment.
Why is The Risk of Hearing Impairment Greater For Veterans?
Two words: Exposure to noise. Sure, some occupations are louder than others. Librarians, for instance, are normally in a more quiet environment. They’d most likely be exposed to decibel levels ranging from a whisper (around 30 dB) to average conversation (60 dB).
For civilians who are at the other end of the sonic scale, such as an urban construction worker, the hazard rises. Background noises you would periodically hear, such as the siren of an emergency vehicle (120dB), or continuously, like heavy city traffic, are harmful to your hearing. Research has revealed that construction equipment noise, everything from power tools to heavy loaders, exposes laborers to noises louder than 85 dB.
Construction sites are definitely loud, but individuals 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’s not quiet at military bases either. Indoor engine rooms are very loud and the deck of an aircraft carrier can be as loud as 130 – 160 dB. For pilots, noise levels are high too, with choppers being well over 100 dB and jets and other planes also being well above 100 dB. Another worry: One study discovered that exposure to some kinds of jet fuel appears to cause hearing impairment by disrupting auditory processing.
And as a 2015 study of hearing loss amongst military personnel adeptly highlights, for the men and women who serve our country, it’s not a choice, it’s a duty. They have to contend with noise exposure in order to complete missions and even day-to-day tasks. And even the best performing, standard issue, hearing protection often isn’t enough to protect against some of these noises.
How Can Veterans Treat Hearing Loss?
Noise induced hearing loss can be reduced with hearing aids even though it can’t be cured. The most prevalent type of hearing loss amongst veterans is a decreased ability to hear high-frequency sounds, but this type of hearing impairment can be corrected with specialized hearing aids. Tinnitus is often a symptom of another health problem and although it can’t be cured, there are also treatment solutions for it.
In serving our country, veterans have already made lots of sacrifices. Hearing shouldn’t have to be one of them.