Hearing Loss Among British Veterans
Hazardous noise is a common occupational hazard for servicemen. Weapons systems, jet engines, communication systems, and combat operations are just a few of the sources of potentially damaging noises that soldiers are exposed to on a daily basis.
In 2018, the Royal British Legion highlighted that there were 300,000 ex-service personnel who were suffering from hearing loss in the United Kingdom. Auditory damage is, in fact, the most common disorder caused by service in the armed forces. This has wider implications for veterans’ health, as hearing loss has commonly been linked to a multitude of mental health illnesses such as depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, and dementia. Whilst there is support available for more widely recognised health issues that affect veterans, such as PTSD and limb loss, hearing loss has been a largely under-researched area with a distinct lack of support available for ex-service personnel.
The Royal British Legion published a report ‘Lost Voices’ which stated that 14% of infantry troops returning from Afghanistan experienced service-related hearing loss. According to Steven Baynes, head of Grants and Social Policy at The Royal British Legion, ‘hearing loss is one of the hidden injuries of conflict which is often forgotten about and consequently many veterans don’t seek support.’ From 2007-2012, hearing loss was the primary cause for 62 peoples’ medical discharge from the Army.
The Problem of Tinnitus
Additionally, many veterans experience Tinnitus, a constant ringing in the ears. 11% of veterans reported experiences of hearing loss and 6% reported suffering from tinnitus according to a study cited in the ‘Lost Voices’ report.
Former Royal Marine, Harris Tatakis serving in Afghanistan before his injury in April 2007
Harris Tatakis, ex-Marine, was on tour in Afghanistan in 2007 when his Land Rover drove over an IED. He suffered many injuries which left him paralysed for 2 days. The blast also ruptured both of his eardrums, leaving him with Tinnitus. Harris stated that of all his injuries, ‘the tinnitus has been the worst…it doesn’t get the attention it deserves.’ Harris explained how Tinnitus affected his emotional wellbeing and mental health. He described how he could not tolerate other people talking to him, he was always on edge, and his sleep was affected, leaving him to feel mentally and emotionally exhausted.
Not only are mental health issues a common feature of service-related hearing loss, but some veterans have expressed concern over the lack of treatment and attention it receives, as they believe that their hearing loss has had a detrimental effect on their careers at home. One ex-serviceman expressed that he had to give up his second career as a teacher after 23 years due to the deterioration of his hearing. Another veteran failed medical exams for jobs in the police force due to their hearing loss, and one veteran was even removed from a specialist team in the police service as their hearing deteriorated to below the health and safety standard.
In order to address the ongoing problems caused by hearing loss, a group of experts have been brough together under the title ‘EARSHOT’ to study military-related hearing loss, and find ways to support service veterans. However, whilst there is increasing research into service-related hearing loss, it still receives little scholarly attention as a less visible effect of war. Hearing loss and tinnitus can be seen to hinder careers at home, social and emotional mental health, and relationships with others and so deserves much greater research.
The Royal British Legion, Lost Voices, https://storage.rblcdn.co.uk/sitefinity/docs/default-source/campaigns-policy-and-research/lost_voices_hearing_loss_report.pdf?sfvrsn=5ef1d43a_0
Jing Chen, et. al., ‘Mental Health in adults with sudden sensorineural hearing loss: An assessment of depressive symptoms and its correlates’, Journal of Psychosomatic Research, Vol.75, No.1, (2013), pp.72-74
Hearing Loss Now a Military Epidemic, (2008) https://www.cbsnews.com/news/hearing-loss-now-a-military-epidemic/
J. Attias et al., ‘Military Noise-Induced Hearing Loss’, in Noise and Its Effects: ed. Linda M. Luxon and Deepak Prasher (Wiley, 2007)
Kurt Yanakas, ‘Prelude: Noise-induced tinnitus and hearing loss in the military’, Hearing Research 295 (2013), 3-8.