For Immediate Release: May 23, 2013
By Eric Beidel, Office of Naval Research
ARLINGTON, Va. —As more military service members report hearing loss, the Office of Naval Research (ONR) next week will host experts from across the country to look at ways to stem the problem.
Sponsored by ONR’s Warfighter Performance Department, the meeting, slated for May 29 to coincide with Better Hearing and Speech Month, will include academic and military health professionals dedicated to finding solutions to the most common disability among veterans.
“Hearing preservation is not just about ear plugs,” said Kurt Yankaskas, who manages ONR’s Noise-Induced Hearing Loss program. “We’re looking at everything from making stuff quieter to better operational hearing protection as we go forward in understanding this complex issue.”
Every day, Sailors and Marines work on aircraft carriers or in cockpits, engine rooms and other locations where noise levels outstrip the effectiveness of current hearing protection devices. Similar situations have contributed to an increase in auditory problems across the military.
In its most recent report, the Veterans Administration (VA) estimated that more than 1.5 million veterans—almost double the number from 2006—were receiving compensation for hearing loss and tinnitus, typified by ringing in the ears. The VA reported nearly 150,000 new cases of hearing loss and tinnitus for 2011, more than three times the number for post-traumatic stress disorder.
ONR and its research partners are attacking the problem from different angles with a focus on:
• Tailoring hearing protection devices to individual users
• Measuring noise exposure in real time
• Developing pharmaceuticals to maintain and restore hearing
Extensive modeling and simulation can provide researchers today with a better understanding of how to measure noise and determine the susceptibility of individuals to hearing loss and tinnitus.
Researchers ultimately want to find a way to regenerate damaged hair cells in the cochlea, a spiral-shaped part of the inner hear essential for hearing. One of the main challenges is to link these sensors of the ear to auditory nerves that carry messages to the central hearing processing center in the brain.
“Early investment from ONR proved that timely delivery of antioxidant compounds helps to mitigate the effect of noise exposure,” said Dr. Rick Rogers, a scientist at the Harvard School of Public Health. Rogers has worked with ONR to investigate the potential for inhaled antioxidants to protect against noise-induced hearing loss in theater. “We are hopeful that we may be able to reduce or reverse these symptoms in the near future.”
Studies by ONR and other entities indicate that medicine already approved by the Food and Drug Administration could reverse the effects of both noise-induced hearing loss and mild traumatic brain injury symptoms—such as dizziness and memory loss—suffered after a blast incident.
Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert’s Sailing Directions speak of harnessing teamwork, talent and imagination to uphold “a moral covenant” with service members and their families. This message, Yankaskas said, is embodied in ONR’s collaborations with other government agencies, universities and medical facilities on hearing preservation for military personnel.
“Researchers across the Navy and other services are making significant strides in gaining a better understanding of these critical issues,” Yankaskas said. “It only makes sense that we work together more closely to accomplish our goal, which ultimately is the welfare of our warfighters.”
About the Office of Naval Research
The Department of the Navy’s Office of Naval Research (ONR) provides the science and technology necessary to maintain the Navy and Marine Corps’ technological advantage. Through its affiliates, ONR is a leader in science and technology with engagement in 50 states, 70 countries, 1,035 institutions of higher learning and 914 industry partners. ONR employs approximately 1,400 people, comprising uniformed, civilian and contract personnel, with additional employees at the Naval Research Lab in Washington, D.C.