Mechanisms of Hearing Loss after Blast Injury to the Ear
Given the frequent use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) around the world, the study of traumatic blast injuries is of increasing interest. The ear is the most common organ affected by blast injury because it is the bodyﾒs most sensitive pressure transducer. We fabricated a blast chamber to re-create blast profiles similar to that of IEDs and used it to develop a reproducible mouse model to study blast-induced hearing loss. The tympanic membrane was perforated in all mice after blast exposure and found to heal spontaneously. Micro-computed tomography demonstrated no evidence for middle ear or otic capsule injuries; however, the healed tympanic membrane was thickened. Auditory brainstem response and distortion product otoacoustic emission threshold shifts were found to be correlated with blast intensity. As well, these threshold shifts were larger than those found in control mice that underwent surgical perforation of their tympanic membranes, indicating cochlear trauma. Histological studies one week and three months after the blast demonstrated no disruption or damage to the intra-cochlear membranes. However, there was loss of outer hair cells (OHCs) within the basal turn of the cochlea and decreased spiral ganglion neurons (SGNs) and afferent nerve synapses. Using our mouse model that recapitulates human IED exposure, our results identify that the mechanisms underlying blast-induced hearing loss does not include gross membranous rupture as is commonly believed. Instead, there is both OHC and SGN loss that produce auditory dysfunction.