When one thinks of the brutal aftermath of armed combat, one thinks of scars, damage to limbs, perhaps mental health problems. But the number one disability following combat in Iraq and Afghanistan is one that is, at least partially, preventable – hearing loss.
It is estimated that up to 60 per cent of active servicemen that have been exposed to loud blasts, suffer from some form of hearing loss, caused by constant and concussive noise on patrol or in training.
In an article by The Guardian a study of 1250 Royal Commandos found that 70 per cent had suffered hearing loss, with around 400 categorised as suffering from ‘industrial deafness’.
Roadside landmines, aircraft, missiles and gunfire are all deadly challenges faced by soldiers every day, and unfortunately their effects often persist in the form of partial/complete loss of hearing or tinnitus for the rest of their lives.
Some soldiers refuse to wear protection because it is uncomfortable or looks silly, or perhaps because they cannot hear orders from superiors, or communicate with colleagues.
Hearing the distinctive sound of a missile being launched or a weapon being readied, and then acting immediately, may be the difference between survival and annihilation.
Moulded ear plugs are cheaply available, but can only block out 20-25 decibels of sound, sadly insufficient when weapon noise can exceed the safe range of hearing by 70 or more decibels. Others simply forget to pack ear plugs or put them on, or do not even know how to wear them properly.
Many of those returning will not even know that they have sustained damage, and will suffer without being aware.
Others will be victims of multiple injuries of which hearing is just one, such as retired army captain Mark Brogan. A suicide bomber detonated near to him in Iraq, leaving him with terrible damage to his spine, arm and brain – but in this article by NBC News he said that hearing loss was the worst of the physical trauma.
The after-effects are not just physical. A returning member of the armed forces with hearing loss might struggle to find a job as a civilian because their communication channels are so disrupted. Social situations will become strained as they struggle in conversation.
They might also be unable to slip back into a normal family life, which can then lead to isolation and depression. For someone whose mental state may already be fragile after witnessing the horrors of the battleground, it represents yet another cruel blow.
Thankfully more organisations are stepping forward to do their bit by offering financial support, advice and guidance.
Some hearing aid specialists are now supporting war heroes, such as Hidden Hearing, who are offering a £100 discount (on top of any other current promotion which may be running) off of all hearing solutions for British servicemen and women, past or present, until 30 June 2014.
By assessing their needs through a series of simple but wide-ranging tests, companies such as this are able to find help for veterans so that they can start to enjoy the sounds around them once again.