Hearing Loss Research

With today’s battlefield louder than ever, from the ubiquity of small-arms fire to the roar of jet engine noise, protecting against hearing loss is essential.

MEDITERRANEAN SEA (June 14, 2016) Aviation Boatswain's Mate (Equipment) Airman Reymart Rosario signals the launch of an aircraft, assigned to Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 7, on the flight deck of aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75).Extreme noise is ubiquitous on the modern battlefield, from the staccato sounds of gunfire to the roar of jets. Researchers have been researching the problem of hearing loss for many decades.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Ethan T. Miller)

For nearly 70 years, the Office of Naval Research (ONR) has supported research aimed at reducing and preventing two of the highest long-term disabilities facing Sailors and Marines—tinnitus (ringing in the ears) and hearing loss, which occurs when inner ear hair and nerve cells are damaged by exposure to high noise levels.

The foundation of this work started with one of ONR’s early principal investigators, Georg von Békésy. ONR sponsored von Békésy’s work in bone conduction and maximal sound protection by ear plugs while he was at Harvard University in the late 1940s. Von Békésy’s research laid the groundwork for understanding cochlear mechanics, the  inner workings of the ear, for which he would receive a Nobel Prize in medicine in 1961.

Today, ONR’s Noise Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL) program continues to build on von Békésy’s work—addressing challenges associated with operational performance in noisy environments and the hearing loss faced by warfighters.

The NIHL portfolio includes four major research areas: reduce noise on ships and aircraft and around other equipment; evaluate and assess hearing loss and tinnitus incidence, susceptibility, and risk factors; prevent and treat tinnitus and hearing loss; and improve personal protective equipment, hearing protection devices, and underwater communications and hearing protection.

The NIHL program is the only multidisciplinary program in this important science and technology research domain and is the lead research and development program for the Department of Defense.

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