Back to Top Skip to main content

Center continues quest to protect hearing, prevent damage

Air Force Lt. Col. Kwame Curtis (left), chief of the 48th Medical Group, Audiology Clinic at RAF Lakenheath, England, uses HCE's Comprehensive Hearing Health Program materials to discuss balance and dizziness disorders with a service member prior to a video-nystagmography test. (Air Force photo)   Air Force Lt. Col. Kwame Curtis (left), chief of the 48th Medical Group, Audiology Clinic at RAF Lakenheath, England, uses HCE's Comprehensive Hearing Health Program materials to discuss balance and dizziness disorders with a service member prior to a video-nystagmography test. (Air Force photo)

Recommended Content:

Hearing Loss

The ability to hear and communicate is critical in all aspects of life. During National Audiology Awareness Month in October, the observance is a reminder that some noise can be hazardous to hearing, especially for Service members exposed to aircraft, machinery and weapons fire, who can suffer permanent damage to the auditory system.

Since it was established in 2009, the Department of Defense (DoD) Hearing Center of Excellence (HCE), in partnership with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), has focused on its mission to prevent, diagnose, mitigate, and rehabilitate hearing and balance injuries in Service members and Veterans.

The center serves as a resource for providers in the DoD and VA, enabling the development, exchange and adoption of best practices, research, measures of effectiveness and clinical care guidelines to reduce the prevalence and cost of hearing injury among Service members and Veterans.  To foster initiatives and solutions for hearing and balance disorders, HCE has also established global partnerships and alliances with the VA, U.S. military services, other federal agencies, academia, industry and international communities.

“Our goal is to ensure that our service members are ready and able to hear and perform their missions, and to be a resource that actively works to prevent hearing loss during military service. It’s important that we champion the military unique aspects of hearing loss and auditory-vestibular system injury for the Service member and Veteran,” said Air Force Col. LaKeisha Henry, HCE’s division chief.

While hearing loss and tinnitus – the ringing, buzzing or other sounds in the ears or head often associated with hearing loss – have remained among the most prevalent service-connected disabilities reported annually by the Veterans Benefits Administration, HCE is striving to prevent noise-induced hearing loss, or NIHL, in collaboration with hearing conservation programs administered by each service, and through its Comprehensive Hearing Health Program (CHHP).

Created in 2013, the CHHP program, a best practice approach, is being launched across the DoD and VA to reduce the incidence of hearing injury through education, protection and monitoring. The program’s aim is to standardize and optimize hearing conservation services.

With education as a key element to prevention, HCE teamed up with the Services and the Army Game Studio to develop an interactive multimedia course to ensure Service members receive annual hearing health education earlier and throughout their careers.  The four-module Hearing Education and Readiness (HEAR) course, available on-line and via a HEAR app, informs Service members about the risks of exposure to hazardous noise, the negative impacts of NIHL, and effective strategies to help reduce the risk. 

In addition to education, periodic hearing monitoring efforts accomplished by service providers help to keep members on track with their hearing health as a readiness requirement.

“Like blood pressure monitoring, when a service member is informed and has access to the status of their hearing, they’re motivated to pay closer attention to their hearing health habits in order to do their jobs and deploy, especially if early signs of hearing loss are detected and they now must take action to prevent it from progressing,” said Lt. Col. Martin Robinette, Army audiology liaison for the HCE.  “Hearing readiness efforts have made service members aware of their need to take care of their hearing, both on and off duty.”

According to Robinette, awareness and changing behavior, such as wearing hearing protection during weapons training and in operational settings, is paramount to reducing NIHL. “If Service members don’t wear hearing protection, nothing will change and hearing loss will continue.”

Robinette said the Army instituted a readiness metric and deployment requirement in 2006, which significantly increased the number of Soldiers who had their hearing checked as a requirement to being able to deploy. “From 2000 to 2003, the Army conducted about 134,000 tests annually on Soldiers. By 2011, the Army conducted more than 1.1 million periodic tests on Soldiers – that’s an 8 to 9-fold increase in testing.  I think many Soldiers realized, if they didn’t have their hearing tested, they wouldn’t be able to deploy, and this also made them want to protect their hearing so that they could deploy.”

Robinette added that the number of infantry Soldiers with the severity of hearing loss that could negatively impact their readiness and performance significantly dropped after 1974 – the post-Vietnam war era, and continues to improve each year in step with hearing conservation efforts within the DoD.

“Hearing loss and hearing injury are at all-time lows in the Army. That said, we still have a long way to go to ensure our Soldiers can effectively perform their mission while protecting their hearing,” said Robinette.  “Ensuring good situation awareness – that is, the ability to detect and localize sounds and communicate while wearing hearing protection- is an additional challenge we are focusing on.”

Tracking and analyzing DoD-wide hearing health data has remained a top priority for HCE and part of its Congressional mandate set forth in the Fiscal Year 2009 National Defense Authorization Act. To achieve this directive, HCE worked with the Services and VA to develop the Joint Hearing Loss and Auditory System Injury Registry, with an estimated system launch in fall 2019.

“The registry combines clinical episodes of care from both DoD and VA audiograms, demographic, deployment, and theatre trauma and non-trauma data to promote continuity of care, analysis, research, and clinical performance,” explained Trina Morrisette, chief of HCE’s Information Management Branch.

While HCE’s mission does not directly conduct research, it has a requirement to facilitate and encourage research. To that end, HCE’s Research Coordination Branch established and maintains an interdisciplinary group called the Collaborative Auditory & Vestibular Research Network, or CAVRN. With a federal roster of more than 200 members, along with nearly 300 more on extramural sub-committees and working groups, the CAVRN team promotes collaboration, translation, and best practices that influence hearing and balance care, readiness, and quality of life for Service members and Veterans.

According to HCE’s Research Coordination Branch chief, Dr. Tanisha Hammill, progress is being made across many fields of hearing and balance research. 

“There’s a lot of promising work and interest in so-called ‘hidden hearing loss’ that has been shown to occur in some animal auditory systems where damage is not detected by traditional hearing tests, which should enable earlier detection and interventions to prevent permanent hearing damage,” Hammill said. “I’m also very hopeful about new developments in pharmacological therapies. For instance, there are clinical trials going on now in early-rescue interventions to prevent transient or permanent hearing loss, as well as for hearing restoration through cochlear regeneration. Seeing where those lead should be very exciting.”

You also may be interested in...

Combatting hearing loss remains top priority

Hearing Center of Excellence audiologist Dr. Amy Boudin-George conducts an audiogram using the Enterprise Clinical Audiology Application, known as ECCA, which is being deployed and implemented at military treatment facilities throughout the Department of Defense to improve the way data is computed and patient information is shared in a centralized environment.  (DoD photo)

The DoD recognizes May as Better Hearing and Vision Month

Recommended Content:

Hearing Loss | Vision Loss

A Soldier’s fight to regain the gift of hearing

Joseph Schweitzer and a friend take to the slopes at Stevens Pass, Washington, in early March 2019.  The former Army combat engineer received more than a decade of care to address hearing loss and a condition called otosclerosis, a plaque-like buildup around the ear drum and hearing bones in the ear.  He is now able to hear normally out of one ear, and can go without hearing devices if he chooses. (Courtesy photo)

Schweitzer attributes his ability to hear to the world-class care he received at Walter Reed

Recommended Content:

Hearing Loss

Noise impact on hearing loss

Noise exposure in the military can occur 24 hours a day, such as during flight operations, even in off-duty areas. (U.S. Air Force file photo)

Hearing loss is the number one disability among veterans

Recommended Content:

Hearing Loss

Study examines impacts of noise and chemical exposure on hearing health

Research audiologist Dr. Rozela Melgoza, DoD Hearing Center of Excellence, completes a study participant's acoustic immittance test to evaluate their middle ear function. Immittance audiometry is one of several tests completed by participants during the Noise Outcomes in Servicemembers Epidemiology (NOISE) study's comprehensive audiologic evaluation. (DoD HCE photo)

Exposure to certain chemicals, called ototoxicants, can cause hearing loss or balance problems

Recommended Content:

Hearing Loss

New course aims to reduce military hearing loss

Maj. Malisha Martukovich, Air Force liaison for the DoD Hearing Center of Excellence, tests out the new HEAR course app, which can be downloaded onto a smartphone or tablet for convenient access. (DoD HCE photo)

Tinnitus and hearing loss have remained among the top disabilities of veterans

Recommended Content:

Hearing Loss

Battlespace acoustics branch protects hearing, human performance

Dr. Eric Thompson, a research engineer with the Warfighter Interface Division, Battlespace Acoustics Branch, part of the 711th Human Performance Wing at Wright Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, sits inside their Auditory Localization Facility. The facility allows researchers to test 3-D audio software that spatially separates sound cues to mimic real-life human audio capabilities. The application allows operators in complex communication environments with multiple talking voices to significantly improve voice intelligibility and communication effectiveness. The technology, which consists primarily of software and stereo headphones, has potential low-cost, high-value application for both aviation and ground command and control communication systems. (U.S. Air Force photo by Richard Eldridge)

We look at how noise is being generated, how it propagates, and what that means for Airmen in the field

Recommended Content:

Preventive Health | Hearing Loss

Air Force NCO resumes career after tumor, hearing loss

Air Force Master Sgt. Geoffrey VanDyck, the 707th Force Support Squadron’s first sergeant, views an image of the tumor found on his auditory nerve, at Fort Meade, Maryland. In May 2005, VanDyck was diagnosed with acoustic neuroma, a noncancerous, normally slow growing tumor that develops on the main vestibular nerve that leads from the inner ear to the brain. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Veronica Pierce)

He had the constant feeling of water in his ear – he knew something was wrong

Recommended Content:

Hearing Loss

Dedicated audiologists use clever tools to combat hearing loss

Army audiologist Maj. William Gottlick, (right) Lyster Army Health Clinic, Fort Rucker, Alabama, conducts an otoscopic exam during an annual hearing test. (Army photo by Jennifer Stripling)

Hearing loss and tinnitus have steadily increased over the last two decades among Veterans

Recommended Content:

Hearing Loss

Research network works to combat number one disability claim among veterans

From flight line operations to firearms qualification ranges, aircraft maintenance back shops, vehicle repair shops, or civil engineering shops, noise brings the potential of hearing loss if proper personal protective hearing equipment is not available or utilized. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Noise brings the potential of hearing loss if proper personal protective hearing equipment is not available or utilized

Recommended Content:

Hearing Loss

Traumatic Brain Injury and the Art of Paddling

Collins enjoys stand-up paddle boarding for how it helps him with TBI. His service dog, Charlie, likes it too. (Courtesy Photo by U.S. Army Special Operations veteran Josh Collins)

A U.S. Army veteran’s recipe for embracing life after several TBIs

Recommended Content:

Mental Wellness | Hearing Loss | Men's Health | Physical Activity | Physical Disability | Posttraumatic Stress Disorder | Traumatic Brain Injury | Vision Loss
<< < 1 > >> 
Showing results 1 - 10 Page 1 of 1

DHA Address: 7700 Arlington Boulevard | Suite 5101 | Falls Church, VA | 22042-5101

Some documents are presented in Portable Document Format (PDF). A PDF reader is required for viewing: Download a PDF Reader or learn more about PDFs.