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Hearing loss in the trenches – a hidden morbidity of World War I

  • K Conroy (a1) and V Malik (a2)
Abstract
Background

One hundred years ago, millions of British and Allied troops were fighting in the trenches of the Great War. With a tenth of soldiers losing their lives, hearing loss seemed a low priority; however, vast numbers of troops sustained significant hearing loss.

Method

A review was conducted of literature published between 1914 and 1925.

Results

Soldiers were exposed to up to 185 dB of sustained noise from new, high-energy weapons, which caused ‘labyrinthine concussion’. Traumatic injuries, non-organic hearing loss and malingering were also common. One source estimated that 2.4 per cent of the army was disabled by hearing loss. However, many British doctors viewed this ‘soldier's deafness’ as a temporary affliction, resulting in soldiers being labelled as malingerers or ‘hysterical’.

Conclusion

Today, one can recognise that a scant evidence base and misconceptions influenced the mismanagement of hearing loss by otolaryngologists in World War I. However, noise-induced hearing loss is still very much a feature of armed conflict.

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Copyright
Corresponding author
Author for correspondence: Ms Katherine Conroy, Department of Otolaryngology, Royal Preston Hospital, Sharoe Green Lane, Fulwood, Preston PR2 9HT, UK E-mail: katherine.conroy@cantab.net
Footnotes
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Ms K Conroy takes responsibility for the integrity of the content of the paper

Presented at the British Society for the History of ENT Annual Meeting, 3 December 2015, London, UK.

Footnotes
References
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2Dickie, JK. Experiences of an otologist in France, 1915–1919. Can Med Assoc J 1921;11:893–9
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The Journal of Laryngology & Otology
  • ISSN: 0022-2151
  • EISSN: 1748-5460
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-laryngology-and-otology
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