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Moody noise study to promote hearing health

A new demonstration at Moody Air Force Base will allow Air Force researchers to study environmental factors affecting hearing loss. Using the concept of Total Exposure Health and new technology to gather all noise exposures, the demonstration will give participants a full profile of the risk to their hearing. (U.S. Air Force graphic)

A new demonstration at Moody Air Force Base will allow Air Force researchers to study environmental factors affecting hearing loss. Using the concept of Total Exposure Health and new technology to gather all noise exposures, the demonstration will give participants a full profile of the risk to their hearing. (U.S. Air Force graphic)

FALLS CHURCH, Va. -- We live in a noisy world. Cars, music, motorcycles, noise at work, and many other noise sources affect our hearing. A new demonstration project at Moody Air Force Base in Georgia, using new technology developed in tandem by the Air Force and private industry, seeks to give participants a complete picture of their hearing risk.

“Hearing loss is the third most common chronic physical health condition in the U.S.,” said Col. Phillip Goff, the associate chief for Bioenvironmental Engineering in the Air Force Medical Support Agency. “However, many people do not know what level of noise presents a risk to their hearing. Our demonstration will help answer that question.”

The Moody noise demonstration will test a new way to measure participants’ total noise exposure around-the-clock. Participants will have a small audio sensor clipped to their clothing that connects wireless to specially designed application on their smartphone. The sensor will measure the sound levels (decibels), but does not record anything.

 “The noise demonstration will use advanced sensors to measure noise 24 hours a day,” said Goff. “It doesn’t just collect external noise either. It connects to smartphones and other media devices to get a total, cumulative noise exposure. This technology is unique in collecting such a complete portrait of sound exposure.” 

Participants in the noise demonstration project will wear the sensor around-the-clock, with a few exceptions, for seven to fourteen days. The system tracks louder noise exposures, letting study participants note what caused the sound. Participants can see which activities create hearing risk, and take appropriate precautions.

“Right now we have limited data on the damage caused by listening to music through ear buds or headphones,” said Goff. “We want to capture participants’ total sound exposure, so we created technology that lets us study the effects of personal listening devices as well.”

This concept behind the noise demonstration is Total Exposure Health (TEH), a growing field of inquiry in Air Force Medicine. TEH recognizes that many environmental, workplace and lifestyle factors have a major effect on health. Understanding these factors could have a big impact on readiness, and help prevent illness or injury.

The Moody noise demonstration is one of the first research projects to collect data in the scope needed to test the TEH concept. Most health studies use snapshots of data, taking single measurements at intervals and inferring the data in between. The noise demonstration uses cumulative collection of data via digital devices that will give researchers a total sound profile, unique to this project.

If the Moody noise demonstration proves the TEH concept sound, it could have major implications for how the military collects data in the field, and our understanding of battlefield disease.

 “After every conflict, we find that there is a disease or illness that pops up that is unexplained, like Gulf War Illness in Desert Storm,” said Goff. “These diseases all have no definitive causal factors –we have theories like burn pits or oil fires, but we don’t know for sure. TEH may be able to help solve some of these mysteries and build knowledge to help prevent illness and injury in the future.”

The technology developed for the demonstration captures noise exposure continuously. Previous studies of sound exposures mostly captured occupational, or workplace sounds. This is only a partial picture.

“Our body doesn’t care what time of day it is when we’re exposed to something, or if we’re on or off duty,” said Goff. “We’re exposed to environmental, workplace and lifestyle conditions all the time – in our food, water, air and whatever we touch. Those things go into our body to become cumulative or synergistic and can create possible health issues.”

Participation in the demonstration is voluntary.  Volunteers must be active duty Air Force, assigned to Moody AFB.  They must own an iOS or Android-based smartphone and be willing to install the noise app on their smartphone. Demonstration participants must not have any duty-related safety or security restrictions that prohibit wear and use of a smartphone and sensor.

Click here for more information on the Moody Noise Demonstration. Active duty Eligible Airmen interested in participating in the demonstration can contact the USAFSAM research team at USAFSAM.FH.TotalNoiseStudy@us.af.mil.