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People lose their hearing for many reasons but the Occupational Audiology — Hearing Conservation Clinic at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center (WRNMMC) is concerned with only one type — Noise Induced Hearing Loss.

According to the American Academy of Audiology, approximately 36 million Americans have hearing loss. In addition, nearly 30 million workers are exposed to hazardous levels of noise on the job, and one in three developed their hearing loss as a result of exposure to noise.

The Hearing Conservation Program is all about the prevention and management of noise induced hearing loss. “We see active duty service members and civilian Department of Defense (DOD) hazardous noise exposed employees for routine medical surveillance hearing tests,” said Margaret Jylkka, Audiologist and Service Chief for Occupational Audiology - Hearing Conservation. “People get a baseline test and then we monitor their hearing to make sure they are safe for what they do. Hearing is essential for good situational awareness and good communication ability. Hearing is 24/7, it is an alerting system that keeps us safe,” he added.

According to Roselyn Thibou, health technician, when a patient comes in, an initial hearing test is administered. Seated inside of a metal semi-sound proof hearing booth, the patient listens and responds to a series of tones that determine their readiness. If further testing is needed, the computer will automatically generate a patient referral to the audiologist.

Shoshannah Russell, one of the audiologists who sees many of the patient referrals, went on to state, “We see a lot of follow-up patients and people who have had changes in their hearing or who do not meet their hearing standard. We also do a lot of research,” she explained.

Capt. Stephanie Smith, service chief of Medical Readiness Clinic, said that her clinic works in concert with the Occupational Audiology Clinic by performing periodic health assessments on service members and to make sure they are medically fit. Soldiers and Marines are required to have their hearing assessed each year, and Sailors when they enter the service and then on a situational basis.

Smith also added that hearing challenges can be a service disqualifier and the results of a hearing exam can mean that a service member can either be removed from duty or put into a specific role. The Medical Readiness Clinic makes a decision based on recommendations from the Occupational Audiology Clinic.

The Walter Reed Bethesda Occupational Audiology - Hearing Conservation Program is committed to the education, counseling, and fitting of hearing protection, Jylkka added. The office is located in Building 7, second floor, room 2143, adjacent to the Occupational Health Clinic. All active duty, civilian employees in the noise medical surveillance program can schedule routine hearing exams Monday through Wednesday from 7 to 11 a.m. and 1 to 3:30 p.m., Thursday from 7 to 11 a.m., and Fridays from 7 to 10:45 a.m., and from 1 to 2 p.m.

For more information, call Margaret M. Jylkka at 301-295-4665.