How the police can prevent and treat hearing loss

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By Dr Hope Lanter

As a policeman, noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) can have a devastating effect on your career, your ability to be your best, and even your personal safety at work – not to mention your life off the clock.

More than a third of police personnel suffer from some degree of NIHL – more than twice the rate of the general population. And it’s more common among those who have been in the force for over 15 years, and more common among female officers than among men.

Of course, when you consider a day in the life of a police officer, it’s no surprise that hearing loss is a problem for so many people. Almost all parts of the job involve exposure to noise. Whether it’s the incessant noise of traffic and horns, the howling of sirens during a chase, the constant screeching of radio communications, the barking of K-9 units or explosive sounds like gunshots or flashbangs, everything adds up over time.

In fact, while many people think NIHL is caused by exposure to loud noises, the truth is, it’s not just the volume that matters. The duration and intensity of exposure, even at relatively comfortable noise levels, can have a profound effect on hearing acuity.

A PROFESSIONAL RISK

Unfortunately for law enforcement, exposure to noise is almost inevitable. Where construction workers and machine operators can easily wear hearing protection on the job, for a police officer it is just not practical, other than beach practice in a controlled environment.

It is essential that officers have a free hearing to remain fully aware of everything around them, whether it is a suspect sneaking around the corner or a vehicle passing dangerously close by while on the road. a routine road check. But those same situations that make hearing protection impractical also make hearing loss extremely dangerous.

Besides the risk to your personal safety, the inability to hear well can also negatively affect investigations. If you’re unable to hear a witness or suspect during questioning, you might miss critical details – whether it’s spoken language or body language – that compromise the collection of evidence.

[RELATED: Firearms training and prevention of hearing loss]

In most cases, NIHL appears gradually, so it’s easy to overlook or not recognize the signs and symptoms. In fact, it’s more likely that others, including your loved ones, coworkers, or partner, will notice the problem because of your compensating behaviors. These include:

  • Turn your head to bring your “good ear” closer to the source of the sound. This subtle act can become so instinctive that you may not even notice you are doing it.
  • Request repetition. If you find that people just aren’t talking loud enough and you constantly have to ask, “Huh? Or what? ”During a conversation, it’s probably not them – it’s you.
  • You feel vulnerable at work. If you feel particularly anxious or uncomfortable in confrontational situations because you don’t feel fully aware of your surroundings, hearing loss could be the root of the problem.
  • Loud environments seem overwhelming. If going out for dinner or a drink in a restaurant or bar feels uncomfortable or tense because you can’t hear or follow the conversation, that’s a clear sign of a problem.
  • Withdraw from activities. Sometimes hearing loss can make you so uncomfortable that you’d rather stay home. For example, if you find excuses to skip dinner dates or skip your child’s school games because you can’t hear, it’s clear that hearing loss is having an impact on your life.
  • Poor communication or misunderstandings. Sometimes you may feel embarrassed or afraid of annoying other people by constantly asking them to repeat what they have said, so instead, you are doing your best to cope. This can lead to relationship problems with coworkers or loved ones because you miss vital parts of the conversation and don’t fully understand the information, their point of view, or their feelings.

HERE’S WHAT TO DO

If any of these behaviors sound familiar to you, or if others have told you that you might have a problem, it might be time to get help. But first, you need to know that there is no reason to be embarrassed. NIHL is simply a known occupational hazard of very difficult work.

First, do a hearing test with a qualified audiologist. A qualified professional can measure your hearing range and suggest solutions, like hearing aids, it can help. It’s important to note that today’s hearing aids are not your grandfather’s hearing aids. These are high-tech audio devices that are barely detectable and designed for an active lifestyle.

Many even come with Bluetooth and a smartphone app that lets you adjust settings to suit the environment. For example, you can adjust background noise cancellation for an intimate dinner party or adjust for a traffic control or crowd control situation.

PREVENTION IS ALSO IMPORTANT

Perhaps you are not quite there yet. Maybe hearing loss isn’t a problem or you are a new cop. You don’t have to accept NIHL as inevitable fate. While wearing hearing protection is not practical in all situations, you will definitely still want to wear it on the shooting range.

Outside of work, train good hearing hygiene. Deliberately immerse yourself in silence whenever possible to help ‘reset’ hearing function and give your ears a break. The fact that NIHL is caused by cumulative damage means that avoiding noise as much as possible can counteract the impact of noise on work.

Finally, get a proactive hearing test now and once a year in the future. Even if you think you are hearing very well, getting tested now can give you a baseline measurement to compare with each year, so you can intervene at the right time. Prolonged hearing loss can cause permanent damage to the auditory nerve, so early intervention is essential to ensure hearing aids can work to restore functioning hearing before it is too late.

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About the Author

Dr Hope Lanter is Chief Audiologist at hear.com, a global leader in hearing care and the largest online retailer of medical grade hearing aids. Dr Lanter has over 15 years of experience as an audiologist working directly with patients and helping them find the best hearing loss treatments that meet their individual needs. She received her Masters of Audiology from the University of Iowa and her Au.D. in Audiology from the AT Still University of Health Sciences.


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