Although veterans have had a wide range of duties, roles, and activities in their time of service, many of these include exposure to very loud sounds and blasts as a part of training or active duty. The exposure to these sounds may occur in preparation for the shocking and destabilizing sensory experience of battle, while others have participated in action that includes these loud sounds in conflict.
Not only do blasts cause exposure to potentially damaging sound, military members are also put in transportation environments that can be incredibly loud, including helicopters and aircraft, and particularly those who operate these vehicles have a high rate of noise exposure.
Due to these and many other noise-related causes, hearing loss is disproportionately higher among veterans than other groups. Indeed, hearing loss ranks number two in the list of health concerns that bring veterans to Veterans Affairs medical centers, only behind tinnitus, another hearing-related condition, that ranks number one.
The types of noise exposure affecting veterans also can be particularly damaging to the ability to understand speech, and the condition Central Auditory Processing Disorder (CAPD) is related to exposure to blasts. Not only does military service produce a high rate of hearing loss and tinnitus, but there are also high rates of anxiety and depression associated with these conditions.
The mental toll of the struggle to understand speech in conversation or to cope with the constant sound of ringing in the ears can be immense, leading to feelings of frustration, anger, and even sleeplessness. The Hearing Health Foundation reports that as much as 60% of veterans have suffered hearing loss, and many of these hearing loss reports are directly related to the noise exposure they underwent during their term of duty.
With such high rates of hearing loss and tinnitus among veterans, what can be done to prevent future loss?
Hearing Protection in Military Service
While serving in a training or active duty capacity, there are steps that the military has taken to reduce the effect of hearing loss. Hearing Protective Devices, or HPDs, come as standard issue equipment for many roles in military service. The first and most basic form of protection comes in the form of earplugs. Even the simplest style of foam disposable earplugs can reduce the overall decibel level encountering the ear canal.
More advanced level-dependent earplugs make it possible to reduce the volume of very loud and damaging sounds while allowing softer sounds, such as the sound of human speech, to travel to the eardrum. Although these basic devices can do a lot to prevent hearing loss, for many of the loudest tasks in the military they are simply not enough.
More advanced noise-cancelling earmuffs are required for those who work with aircraft or who operate heavy machinery. By creating a barrier that encapsulates the ear, they are able to reduce the noise level even further. Some occupations advise wearing both earplugs and earmuffs at the same time in order to increase the noise protection further.
However, a problem arises with such high levels of noise protection. Most tasks also require verbal communication between military members, and these devices block out sound altogether. For tasks in which verbal communication is necessary, the military has developed specialized hearing protection in the form of noise-attenuating helmets and headsets that have communication technology built in.
With a microphone and speaker connecting the voices of soldiers, it is possible to communicate crucial information while also avoiding the dangerous sounds of blasts and aircraft. A final form of hearing protection comes in the form of noise suppressors on weapons. Silencers on guns and other loud weapons can be used as a tactical strategy, but they are also useful to protect the hearing of veterans after their terms of service are complete.
Protecting Your Hearing Health
Military service members should be careful to use these various forms of hearing protection as they are appropriate and also to monitor their effectiveness. When it comes to hearing health, it is crucial to monitor protective measures in order to make sure they are functioning properly and to look out for your future hearing health.
If you are a veteran and are concerned about your hearing abilities, contact us today to learn more about our comprehensive hearing health services.