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 about veteran’s healthcare, the most frequently diagnosed disability is often relatively ignored: Hearing loss and tinnitus.
Even if you take into account age and occupation, there’s a 30% higher chance of veterans having significant hearing impairment compared to non-veterans. Hearing loss, linked to military service, has been recognized at least back to the second world war, but it’s far more prevalent in veterans who have 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 noisier than others. For example, a librarian will be working in a relatively quiet environment. The volume of sound that they would usually be exposed to would be from 30dB (a whisper) to 60 dB (normal conversation).
For civilians who are at the other end of the sonic scale, such as a city construction worker, the hazard rises. Background noises you would periodically hear, such as the siren of an emergency vehicle (120dB), or constantly, like heavy city traffic, are harmful to your hearing. Noises louder than 85dB (from power tools to heavy machinery) are prevalent on construction sites according to research.
Construction sites are definitely loud, but people in the military are constantly exposed to noise that is far louder. In combat settings, troops are exposed to gunfire (150 dB), grenades (158 dB), and heavy artillery (180 dB). And it isn’t 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 also, with helicopters being well over 100 dB and jets and other planes also being well above 100 dB. Another concern: One study found that exposure to some kinds of jet fuel appears to cause hearing impairment by interrupting auditory processing.
And as a 2015 study of hearing loss amongst military personnel aptly highlights, 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 everyday activities. 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 permanent, the impairment can be reduced with hearing aids. The loss of high-pitch sound is the most prevalent type of hearing loss among veterans and this kind of impairment can be managed with specialized hearing aids. Tinnitus can’t be cured, but as it’s frequently a symptom of another issue, treatment solutions are also available.
Veterans have already made lots of sacrifices in serving our country. Hearing shouldn’t have to be one of them.