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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)  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)

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Hearing is a critical sense, but often overlooked and ignored because it is largely invisible. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 14 percent of U.S. adults age 20-69 have hearing loss, while 25 percent of American adults who report excellent to good hearing may already have hearing damage.

For Fiscal Year 2017, the Veterans Benefits Administration reported that 3.1 million Veterans received disability compensation for auditory injuries.  There are currently 1.78 million Veterans who claim a service-related tinnitus disability, including 159,000 new claims reported in 2017. Hearing loss and tinnitus (ringing, buzzing or other sound in the ears or head), remain the top two most prevalent disabilities among Veterans.

Because hearing and vision are critical senses, the Department of Defense recognizes May as Better Hearing and Vision Month, to raise awareness about hearing and vision injury, encourage people to analyze their own vision and hearing health, and inspire them to take action if they think there might be a problem.

“Hearing and Vision Month highlights the enduring responsibility of the Department of Defense to protect the health and well-being of our service members and to focus on the impact sensory loss can have on quality of life and force readiness,” said Air Force Col. LaKeisha Henry, division chief for the DoD Hearing Center of Excellence, known as HCE. 

The DoD established HCE in 2009 to address the prevention, diagnosis, mitigation, treatment, and rehabilitation of hearing loss and auditory injury, including auditory-vestibular (balance) dysfunction often related to traumatic brain injury. 

To reduce hearing injury, HCE is working to prevent noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL), in collaboration with hearing conservation programs administered by each Service, and through its Comprehensive Hearing Health Program (CHHP).  Viewed as preventable, NIHL can be caused by a one-time exposure to an intense “impulse” sound, like an explosion, or by continuous exposure to loud sounds over an extended period of time, such as noise generated by machinery or aircraft.

Established in 2013, the CHHP centers on HCE-developed education tools, administered by audiologists to help Service members understand the hazardous effects of noise, and learn strategies to prevent future loss. The program is being rolled out across the DoD and Department of Veterans Affairs, with the goal to influence individual and organizational behavior change regarding the value of hearing and importance of protection. 

Another education resource aimed at preventing hearing loss is the Hearing Education and Readiness (HEAR) course, an interactive multimedia training developed in collaboration with the Army Game Studio.  The four-module course, available through the Joint Knowledge Online training portal, informs Service members about the risks of exposure to hazardous noise, the negative impacts of NIHL, and effective strategies to help reduce the risk. The training also outlines regulations and standards for Service members and DoD civilians enrolled in a hearing conservation program as determined by their Service.

In July 2018, HCE released a HEAR course app for Android devices, featuring a 10-minute, compressed version of the training, to deliver quick and convenient education during a Service members’ periodic hearing test.  A HEAR course app for Apple devices is due to be released soon, according to Air Force Maj. Malisha Martukovich, Air Force audiology liaison for the HCE.

To help select the right hearing protection for a particular environment, HCE recently developed an evaluated products list (EPL) and guidebook to solve the dual but competing needs of delivering hearing protection while also maintaining a Service members’ needed situational awareness. The EPL resource will ensure devices are assessed according to standardized methods for steady-state noise, impulse noise, and localization.

“Most hearing protection, if worn properly in noise-hazardous environments, is effective in preventing hearing loss,” said Martukovich. “The EPL will help service members and their supervisors select the right device for each noise environment and for specific hearing critical tasks, which are dependent on hearing to complete the task.”

In addition to occupational noise, recreational off-duty noise from loud music, power tools, lawn mowers and other exposures can also cause permanent hearing loss. Studies show that among young adults, nearly 50 percent are exposed to unsafe levels from personal listening devices and about 40 percent are exposed to potentially damaging levels of sound at entertainment venues.

“Hearing loss is an increasing health concern that is often preventable,” said Martukovich. “Take time to see an audiologist to get your hearing checked and to receive hearing health services if you have hearing loss. Audiologists can also monitor your hearing and provide strategies and hearing protection that will guard against future hearing loss.” 

For more information about hearing health, visit The Hearing Center of Excellence.

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