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ARRA Investments in Noise-Induced Hearing Loss

Public Health Burden
When we are exposed to harmful noise — sounds that are too loud or loud sounds that last a long time — sensitive structures in our inner ear can be damaged, causing noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL). These sensitive structures, called hair cells, are small sensory cells that convert sound energy into electrical signals that travel to the brain. Once damaged, our hair cells cannot grow back. People of all ages, including children, teens, young adults, and older people, can develop NIHL. Approximately 15 percent of Americans between the ages of 20 and 69—or 26 million Americans—have high frequency hearing loss that may have been caused by exposure to loud sounds or noise at work or in leisure activities. Recreational activities that can put someone at risk for NIHL include target shooting and hunting, snowmobile riding, woodworking and other hobbies, playing in a band, and attending rock concerts. Harmful noises at home may come from lawnmowers, leaf blowers, and shop tools.

NIHL is 100 percent preventable. All individuals should understand the hazards of noise and how to practice good hearing health in everyday life. A variety of ARRA-funded grants are exploring ways to prevent NIHL. A few are included below.
  • An international team of scientists have identified a combination of micronutrients that have shown to be effective in preventing noise-induced hearing loss in animals and will test its efficacy in humans during controlled clinical trials with real-world noise conditions.1
  • Infant incubators are crucial for the survival of pre-term babies in neonatal intensive care units but the high levels of noise inside an incubator have been found to lead to hearing impairment on these infants. Scientists are trying to reduce the noise level inside the infant incubator by using an active noise cancellation approach.2
Basic Research
Hearing depends on a series of events that change sound waves in the air into electrical signals that travel from our ears to our brain. Our auditory nerve carries these signals to the brain through a complex series of steps that involve the delicate hair cells in our inner ear. Understanding how hearing happens will lay the basis for future strategies to prevent NIHL.
  • Using a mouse model, scientists are studying whether moderate exposures to loud noise, which initially appears to cause no damage to the hair cells of the inner ear, but actually does, produced a slow death to nerve cells in the inner ear. This project will map the nature and extent of the noise-induced degeneration of cochlear nerve terminals and their synapses with cochlear hair cells.3

  1. 1U01DC008423-01A2 -- Micronutrient Intervention to Reduce Noise-Induced Hearing Loss -- Miller, Josef M (MI)
  2. 1R03DC009673-01A1 -- An Innovative Hearing Loss Prevention Approach for Infant Incubator -- Yu, Xun (MN)
  3. 3R01DC008577-02S2 -- Basic and Clinical Studies of Noise-Induced and Age-Related Hearing Loss -- Kujawa, Sharon (MA)

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