AF begins study on noise exposures

  • Published
  • By J.D. Levite
  • Air Force Surgeon General Public Affairs
An Air Force Surgeon General initiative called Total Exposure Health will soon advance from a concept to a real-world demonstration at an operational base.

Total Exposure Health focuses on primary prevention, which includes exposures in the workplace, the environment and lifestyles, in order to prevent disease and injury from occurring.

“We’re really talking about keeping people truly healthy before they even get sick,” said Col. Kirk Phillips, the consultant to the Air Force surgeon general for bioenvironmental engineering. “We try to get individuals to basically have a healthy lifestyle, which is really difficult when everybody knows it’s important, but it’s not easy to do.”

The upcoming demonstration will focus on an exposure that’s common for everybody -- noise. After recruiting the necessary participants, the next step of the demonstration will be to measure all forms of noise exposure throughout their day, including sources outside of work such as traffic or a child suffering from colic at home.

The standard approach to noise exposures is to monitor workplace noise and intervene when it exceeds a standard threshold.
Dr. Richard Hartman, the chief health strategist for TEH, said the effects of noise are cumulative and measuring only workplace noise exposure fails to account for the other 16 hours of exposure outside the workplace.

“I think a lot of us would be amazed if we actually knew what was too noisy,” Phillips said, adding that most people have numerous noise exposures throughout the day that they don’t even think about. All those sources add up over time if people don’t give their ears a break.
“Noise sources that are lower in value, once we’ve had some of those higher-level exposures, can be concerns,” he added.

The second part of the demonstration will provide practical ways to deal with these exposures. Participants will be given earmuffs, basic hearing protection and a custom form-fitted hearing protection to see which they prefer throughout the day.

Phillips said that’s the exciting part for participants “because not only will you know what your sources are and have your own idea of what to do, but we’re willing to partner with you and your family to actually provide you some resources, such that you are able to control that noise.”

If this work can prevent people from getting overexposed to noise, they could enter old age without this disability, Phillips added.

“Hearing loss from noise exposure means you lose certain areas of your hearing but not others. So, what happens is the things you don’t care about drown out the things you do care about,” he said.

According to Hartman, the demonstration will last about two weeks and the results will help the team understand the complexities of the exposures and open the door for further research and novel approaches to preventing hearing loss.

“We’re going to do something with it,” Hartman said. “We’re not just collecting noise information and saying you’re above or below ... We’re using very advanced analytics to produce a course of action. This is the reason we chose noise as it’s one we’re all exposed to no matter what your age is, no matter what your profession is.”

Hartman said TEH is critical to the future of Air Force health and it will provide a more refined understanding of exposures, from sunlight to pollution, and their effects on the individual. Once all the elements of TEH are implemented it will allow people to take more control of their health because that information is shared.

“That way, you can either have a more informed conversation with your provider or you can make more informed decisions about yourself because you have access,” he said.