When the men and women of our armed forces return home from service, they frequently suffer from physical, emotional, and mental difficulties. Within the continuing discussion about veteran’s healthcare, the most commonly diagnosed disability is often relatively disregarded: Tinnitus and hearing loss.
Veterans are 30% more likely than non-veterans to deal with severe hearing impairment, even when age and occupation are taken into account. Though service-related hearing loss has been recognized going back to World War 2, 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 as much as four times more likely to have hearing impairment than non-veterans.
Why is The Risk of Hearing Impairment Greater For Service Personnel?
The answer is simple: Noise exposure. Certainly, some occupations are louder than others. Librarians, for example, are normally 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 scale, such as an urban construction worker, the danger increases. Sounds you’d constantly hear (city traffic, around 85 dB) or periodically (an ambulance siren’s around 120 dB) are at harmful levels, and that’s just background noise. Research has found that construction equipment noise, anything from power tools to heavy loaders, exposes laborers to noises louder than 85 dB.
Construction sites are definitely loud, but people in the military are constantly exposed to noise that is far louder. In combat scenarios, troops are exposed to gunfire (150 dB), grenades (158 dB), and heavy artillery (180 dB). And it isn’t quiet at military bases either. On the deck of an aircraft carrier, noise levels can range from 130-160 dB; engine rooms might be indoors (and no jets), but they’re still incredibly loud. Noise levels for aviators are high too, with choppers on the low end (around 95-100 dB) and the majority of jets and other aircraft going over 100 dB. Another concern: Certain jet fuels, according to one study, disrupt the auditory process causing hearing impairment.
Our service men and women don’t have the option of opting out, as a 2015 study plainly demonstrates. They have to deal with noise exposure so that they complete missions and even daily 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?
Even though hearing loss due to noise exposure is permanent, the impairment can be reduced with hearing aids. The loss of high-frequency sound is the most prevalent form of hearing impairment among veterans and this kind of impairment can be managed with specialized hearing aids. Tinnitus is often a symptom of another health problem and though it can’t be cured, there are also treatment solutions for it.
In serving our country, veterans have already made many sacrifices. They shouldn’t have to sacrifice their hearing too.