When the men and women of our armed forces come home from service, they frequently suffer from emotional, physical, and mental problems. Within the continuing discussion about veteran’s healthcare, the most frequently diagnosed disability is often relatively disregarded: Tinnitus and hearing loss.
Even if you factor in age and occupation, there’s a 30% higher chance of veterans having severe hearing impairment compared to civilians. Even 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 loss than non-veterans.
Why Are Veterans at Greater Risk For Hearing Loss?
Two words: Noise exposure. Sure, some occupations are louder than others. For example, a librarian will be working in a fairly quiet setting. Thet would likely be exposed to decibel levels ranging from a whisper (about 30 dB) to standard conversation (60 dB).
For civilians who are at the other end of the sonic scale, like a city construction worker, the hazard rises. Sounds you’d continuously hear (city traffic, around 85 dB) or sporadically (an ambulance siren’s about 120 dB) are at unsafe levels, and that’s just background noise. Research has revealed that construction equipment noise, everything from power tools to bulldozers, exposes workers to noises louder than 85 dB.
As loud as a heavy construction site is, active military personnel are constantly subjected to much louder sounds. This is certainly true in combat settings, where troops hear sounds like gunfire (150 dB), hand grenades (158 dBA), and artillery (180 dB). But military bases, whether at home or overseas, are none too quiet either. Indoor engine rooms are very loud and the deck of an aircraft carrier can be as loud as 130 – 160 dB. For pilots, sound levels are high too, with choppers being well over 100 dB and jets and other planes also being well above 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 need to cope with noise exposure so that they accomplish missions and even everyday tasks. 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.
What Can Veterans do to Treat Hearing Loss?
Even though hearing loss due to noise exposure is permanent, the impairment can be eased with hearing aids. The loss of high-pitch sound is the most prevalent type of hearing impairment among veterans and this kind of impairment can be treated 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.
Veterans have already made many sacrifices in serving our country. Hearing shouldn’t have to be one of them.