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Being a member of the military is a dangerous job. The risk of injury and death is always present, whether in training or in combat. However, what many people don’t realize is that the most common injury among military personnel is hearing loss. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, over 50% of veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan have reported experiencing hearing loss or tinnitus. Noise-induced hearing loss is a silent and often overlooked injury, but it can have a significant impact on veterans’ quality of life.
Noise-induced hearing loss is a prevalent issue among military personnel, caused by exposure to loud and intense sounds on the battlefield and during training exercises. The daily noise that soldiers are exposed to, such as loud engines and firearms, can also take a toll on their hearing over time.
The Impact of Noise on the Human Ear
The human ear is not designed to handle the level of noise that soldiers are exposed to. The ear is meant to function in environments where the volume is considerably lower, and the increasing volume of the modern age is a challenge for the auditory system. The World Health Organization has even issued a warning that 1.1 billion teens and young adults are at risk of developing hearing loss strictly because of “personal audio devices.”
Noise Exposure in the Military
The level of noise exposure in the military is particularly high, with jet aircrafts registering around 130 decibels on takeoff. This is compared to decibel levels of a train whistle at 90 decibels, which is considered dangerously loud for hearing health when exposed to for an extended period of time. It’s no surprise that military personnel report some of the highest levels of hearing loss across various fields.
Protection and Prevention
Earplugs are readily available to military personnel to protect against dangerous noise levels. However, soldiers may choose to forego their use in order to maintain their situational awareness in high-risk environments. This can be a difficult decision, but it is important for soldiers to find a balance between protecting their hearing and staying aware of their surroundings.
Providing Aid and Support
Unfortunately, once noise-induced hearing loss occurs, its effects are irreversible. Thankfully, veterans’ affairs organizations are working to provide support and care to veterans who have suffered hearing loss as a result of their service. This may include providing hearing aids, cochlear implants, and other forms of technology that can help veterans regain some or all of their hearing.
How can veterans adjust better to regular life with hearing loss?
There are several ways that veterans with hearing loss can adjust to regular life:
- Seek professional help: Veterans should visit an audiologist or hearing specialist to get a proper diagnosis and treatment plan. This may include getting fitted for hearing aids or cochlear implants, which can greatly improve their ability to hear and communicate.
- Learn coping strategies: Veterans can learn coping strategies to help them better manage their hearing loss. This may include lip-reading, using sign language, or using assistive devices such as amplified telephones.
- Communicate with loved ones and friends: Veterans should let their loved ones and friends know about their hearing loss and how it affects them. This will help them better understand and support the veteran.
- Join a support group: Joining a support group of people with similar experiences can provide veterans with a sense of community and understanding.
- Attend rehabilitation programs: Veterans can attend rehabilitation programs that focus on helping veterans with hearing loss to adjust to regular life.
- Seek financial assistance: veterans can seek financial assistance to help cover the cost of hearing aids, cochlear implants, and other assistive devices.
- Learn to manage stress: Managing stress can be helpful in dealing with hearing loss. Veterans can try stress-management techniques such as meditation, yoga, or exercise to help them relax and cope with their hearing loss.
- Stay engaged and active: veterans should stay engaged and active in their communities and activities they enjoy. This can help boost their self-esteem and improve their overall well-being.
- Make changes in their environment: Veterans can make changes in their environment to help them hear better, such as adding lighting in a room, getting a visual alert for a doorbell or phone, or using closed captioning.
It’s important to note that every person is different, and what works for one person may not work for another. It’s important for veterans to work with a professional and try different strategies until they find what works best for them.