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Doctors research pill to restore hearing

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Dr. Richard Kopke examines Lance Francis after the Army private returned to Oklahoma from Iraq.  For 10 years the doctor and several research teams have been studying a pill that troops can take to reduce hearing loss. Dr. Richard Kopke examines Lance Francis after the Army private returned to Oklahoma from Iraq. For 10 years the doctor and several research teams have been studying a pill that troops can take to reduce hearing loss.

By Melissa Maynarich, NEWS 9

Loud explosions in Iraq are damaging many troops hearing.

Doctors say men in their 20s are coming home with the hearing of a man in his 70s.

Researchers now have developed a pill that soldiers can take to protect their ears.

"It's such an enormous sound that you'll see it," Private Lance Francis said. "You'll be looking at the paladins and you'll see the tube backfire and you'll see the dust fly before you hear it, and the sound wave will just hit you. And it really can rattle you and will leave you ringing for a while.

Ear plugs are distributed, but the element of surprise in Iraq makes it difficult to stay protected, soldiers said.

"You can't always have them in because your squad leader is yelling at you, telling you what to do," Francis said. "You're not going to be able to hear him if you have hearing protection in. If somebody was shooting at you, you wouldn't know.

Dr. Richard Kopke, with the Hough Ear Institute, has hear several similar stories. For 10 years the doctor and several research teams have been studying a pill that troops can take to reduce hearing loss.

 "Hearing loss can really affect their family relationships - can cause some social isolation," Kopke said. "And that can even lead to depression"

The "hearing pill" could be taken either before combat to prevent hearing loss, or after combat to repair hearing loss, Kopke said.

Loud noises produce a toxic waste in the ear that attacks and destroys nerve endings.

"What we're developing is a pill that delivers medicine to the inner ear that can neutralize or eliminate or reduce the damaging effects of those toxins," Kopke said

The doctor said he hopes the pill will be available for troops' use within two to three years.

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