What’d they Say? Hearing Loss for Military and Law Enforcement Professionals
By Scott Frezzo
How many of you have ever been told by someone close to you to get your hearing checked? Whether you are watching TV, in an important briefing or out in the field, missing words or entire sentences is dangerous and frustrating. Being unable to clearly hear a command can get people hurt, and it’s frustrating not only for those who suffer from hearing loss but for your loved ones as well, who are constantly repeating things so you can remain engaged.
Some people with hearing loss are in denial because of the stigma that goes along with losing your hearing, or fear it may be time to hang up your sidearm or take a desk job. Many of you have been told to get your hearing checked so many times, you do not even ask for things to be repeated, out of fear that you may actually have a deficit. Well, don’t panic. There are many causes of hearing loss, like excessive earwax, aging, severe pressure change, ototoxic drugs, foreign objects in the ear and noise. And if you feel as if you may not be hearing as well as you used to, please see a physician. But military and law enforcement professionals have other forces to contend with, such as gunfire, explosions, aircraft and heavy traffic for multiple hours every day. Even vigilant users of ear protection can suffer from some hearing loss, so be sure you’re wearing OSHA-approved equipment that reduces exposure to below 85 dBA over the course of 8 hours.
Normal noise exposure is 85 dBA for 8 hours, and for every three dBA over 85 dBA, the exposure time is cut in half. Normal stadium noise is 105 dBA, but peak stadium noise is 130 dBA, and should only be tolerated for 1 second in a 24-hour period. At 91 decibels (dBA), the equivalent of a lawn mower, a person can withstand that noise safely for only 2 hours a day, before becoming susceptible to hearing loss or damage. A .357 magnum revolver round and a shotgun blast are both around 160dBA.
I was an infantry paratrooper in the Army for many years and jumped out of more C-130s and C-17s than I can remember. The firing range alone may have damaged my hearing, but my time spent in combat zones definitely didn’t help. My wife has been telling me to get my hearing checked for quite a while, but I didn’t realize how bad my hearing was until an Army buddy came to stay with us back in February. We were watching TV and I kept asking, “What’d they say?” My buddy, who served longer than I did, could hear everything while I strained to hear the dialogue. Wait! Do I really need to have my hearing checked? Maybe it is me and not my wife, (whom I accuse of mumbling all the time). I am about 10 years older than my friend, and have more bomb exposure than he does, but I am ready to face the truth.
I scheduled an audiology appointment at the Veterans Administration Hospital for next month. I can’t say I’m excited to go, but if I do have an impairment, I’d like to know. Hearing aid technology has come a long way in the last 20 years. They are virtually undetectable to anyone but the wearer. Still, I’m hoping my mother was right, and all I have is potatoes growing in my ears. So, if you too feel that your hearing is changing from what it once was, make that appointment and have it checked out. Your health is worth it.