THE TERM "hard of hearing" brings back memories of stubborn children being scolded or images of a grandmother who answers every comment with a request for the speaker to repeat.
But that term may soon be used to refer to a significant portion of the Jamaican population, among them front-line police officers and soldiers whose constant exposure to gunfire or other explosions at close range has put them at risk of being 10 times more likely than the average person to develop noise-induced hearing loss.
Audiologist at the Caribbean Hearing Centre, Georgia Beavers, told The Gleaner yesterday that although the level of damage depends on the loudness, length and frequency of exposure, out of a possible 100 personnel, an estimated 20 to 30 per cent would have various levels of noise-induced hearing loss.
The reverberations from weapons being fired daily also put their nemesis, gun-toting criminals, at risk.
Other groups also deemed at high risk include residents exposed to close-range explosions and shooting range customers among them security guards and hunters, including bird-shooting fans.
Mrs. Beavers is concerned for law enforcement and other gun users because the constant exposure damages sections of the ear and may even rupture the ear drum. Even one close-range explosion can result in permanent hearing loss among some gun users, she said.
Yet, security personnel are not equipped with noise protection devices such as ear plugs or muffs, Mrs. Beavers said.
The audiologist also lamented many gun users seldomly recognised the problem for what it was.
"They (security personnel) may have the loss and don't realise they have it because the frequencies that are affected are not interfering with the speech intelligibility," Mrs. Beavers said, pointing out that many come to her when persistent ringing in the ears, a sure sign of damage, interferes with their activities but still do not recognise that as a sign.
Mrs. Beavers explained law enforcement personnel with hearing loss often have trouble distinguishing what they are hearing because "the noise induced hearing loss affects the higher frequencies which is what you need for the clarity of the speech".
In addition, "they may find that they are not distinguishing what they are hearing or have to focus much harder" to hear amidst regular background noises coming from the air conditioning unit or conversation in the cafeteria for example.
Mrs. Beavers suggests the authorities make noise protection devices mandatory so they can be issued to police and soldiers as well as other gun users such as hunters.
She also strongly recommended mandatory hearing tests for security police officers to be carried out each year.