The men and women who serve our country in uniform too frequently endure incapacitating physical, mental, and emotional difficulties after their service has ended. While healthcare for veterans is a recurring discussion, relatively little attention has been paid to the most common 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 reported at least back to World War 2, but it’s far more widespread in veterans who have served more recently. Veterans who have served recently are typically 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 Are Service Personnel at Greater Risk For Hearing Loss?
Two words: Exposure to noise. Sure, some occupations are louder than others. As an example, a librarian will be working in a fairly quiet setting. They’d likely be exposed to volumes ranging from a whisper (around 30 dB) to standard conversation (60 dB).
At the other end of the sonic spectrum, for civilians anyway, 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. Noises louder than 85dB (from power tools to heavy machinery) are prevalent on construction sites according to research.
As loud as a heavy construction site is, active military personnel are regularly subjected to much louder noises. 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. On the deck of an aircraft carrier, noise levels can go from 130-160 dB; engine rooms might be inside (and no jets), but they’re still extremely loud. Noise levels for aviators are high as well, with helicopters on the low end (about 95-100 dB) and most jets and other aircraft going over 100 dB. Another worry: One study revealed that exposure to some types of jet fuel seems to cause hearing impairment by disrupting auditory processing.
Our service men and women don’t have the option of opting out, as a 2015 study clearly demonstrates. In order to complete a mission or perform daily tasks, they have to bear with noise exposure. And even though hearing protection is standard issue, many of the sounds just outlined are so loud that even the best-performing hearing protection is not enough.
How Can Veterans Address Hearing Loss?
Noise induced hearing loss can be alleviated with hearing aids even though it can’t be cured. The most prevalent type of hearing loss among veterans is a diminished ability to hear high-pitch sounds, but this form of hearing loss can be corrected with specialized hearing aids. Tinnitus is often a symptom of another health problem and though it can’t be cured, there are also treatment options for it.
In serving our country, veterans have already made lots of sacrifices. They shouldn’t have to sacrifice their hearing too.