On the Challenges of Hearing Impairment in Combat

How would being deaf or other hearing difficulties affect fighting? Could one good ear be worse off than completely deaf? I don’t think it matters with long range weapons, but could it?

The biggest problem is, simply, situational awareness. If you can’t hear, then you can’t hear. So, you have one less sense to track potential threats in your environment.

In a simple one-on-one situation, this isn’t likely to have major ramifications, but in a less controlled environment, with more potential enemies, it means your ranged senses are limited to what you can see.

There’s also a reflex implication. It takes the brain longer to parse visual data than auditory data. We’re talking about fractions of a second, but it is a factor.

In situations where sounds are the first sign that something’s happened you wouldn’t have that information. For example, if someone starts shooting and you’re not looking directly at them, you would need to parse what you’re seeing, and then realize what that meant. That’s a significant delay over someone in a similar mindset who could hear the initial gunshots.

Generally speaking, if you have one functioning ear, you still have a sense of hearing. The only thing you lose is the ability to effectively track direction.

There are situations where not being able to hear is a marginal advantage. Particularly with firearms. If your ears don’t work, you don’t need to worry (as much) about damaging them from loud noises. Modern gunpowder is loud enough to cause hearing damage, and that’s something that you don’t need to worry about if you can’t hear anything to begin with.

This extends to situations where someone with functional ears can end up with crippling headaches, and tinnitus for days after prolonged gun battles. Now, if you are deaf, you can still suffer from tinnitus, and in some ways it’s worse, because you cannot drown out the ringing with ambient sound.

Related to that, because firearms are so loud, communication in combat is primarily non-verbal. You can’t shout, or hear each other, over the gunfire. This has lead to an advanced system of hand gestures. So, you don’t need hearing to be able to function in a gun battle, and you have a marginal advantage in that you don’t need to bring hearing protection, and won’t suffer from its absence.

-Starke

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