In Part I of this two-part series, we talked about tinnitus and its various causes from noise, to trauma, to a B12 deficiency, and ways that tinnitus could be treated. Here in Part II, I’d like to tell you about some of the latest research findings on both the cause of hearing loss and new treatments for the condition.
Hearing Loss – It’s Causes and Consequences
Hearing loss can be caused by a number of things including heredity, loud headphones, blocked ear canal, age, antibiotics, the toll of environmental toxins or injury to the ears/head or noise around your home or work place. In fact, environmental noise accounts for 10 million people in the U.S. having noise-related hearing loss. More than half of that, 22 million people, are exposed to potentially hearing-damaging noise every year through their job with 82% of the noise in the American workplace coming from the manufacturing world.
Additionally, noise levels around the world have risen significantly in the last decades, both at work and at home, with new technology. For example, devices like MP3 players, and other headphone devices, can play music at 89 decibels. You may suffer hearing loss as a result of making frequent and prolonged use of these technologies.
Hearing loss can also have profound personal and social consequences for you including depression and social isolation. A survey done by the NCOA (National Council on Aging) showed that people who had hearing loss, who did not use a hearing aid, had higher levels of depression, anxiety, and agitation than those who did. They became socially withdrawn and less communicative, less stable emotionally, and had problems with concentration. Those who started wearing hearing aids improved their mood and social relationships significantly. They felt they could be independent again and felt greater security.
Like many of my patients, it may surprise you to learn that hearing loss can also contribute to getting sick in general. People with hearing loss have more symptoms of fatigue, exhaustion, headaches, muscle aches and pains, high blood pressure, dizziness, insomnia, eating disorders, and digestive problems. Although hearing loss does not directly cause these symptoms/conditions, they often accompany them.
What’s New In Hearing Loss Research?
Research on hearing loss, and ways to treat it, has come a long way since the first hearing aids made out of wood in 1588. The first modern hearing aid device, the Akoulathon, was invented back in 1899 by a man named Miller Reese Hutchinson. Made of a carbon microphone, battery and ear set, the Akoulathon was a large device that sat on a table. Improvements in this device resulted in Hutchinson’s development of the Acousticon, the first wearable hearing aid. Since then researchers have worked tirelessly to find both causes and novel ways to treat, hearing loss. Here are some highlights of the new research taking place today:
1. Gene therapy. This is the process of regenerating sensory hair cells that produces electrical signals in response to vibrations in the inner ear, which get encoded and interpreted by the brain as sounds. Aimed at age or trauma-related hearing loss. Researchers at Emory University in Atlanta have shown that introducing the gene named Atoh-1 into the cochlea of young mice induces formation of more sensory hair cells. The studies show that creation of new sensory cells are possible with gene therapy, however, the age of the recipient may affect how successful it is. Researchers are currently trying to perfect this method.
2. Molecule Underlying Deafness. Research out of the University of Sheffield (England) has identified a molecular cause that they feel is responsible for causing deafness – the mutation of the microRNA molecule called miR-96. This discovery could form the basis for treating age-related hearing loss and deafness. Their research has shown that a mutation in the miR-96 RNA molecule prevents the development of auditory sensory hair cells that encode sound signals to the brain. These microRNA molecules can be targeted by drugs and other therapies and raises new opportunities to treat hearing loss.
3. Heredity Caused Deafness. Researchers at Yale University have discovered molecular pathways by which maternally inherited deafness seems to occur. Their studies show that mutations in mitochondrial DNA trigger signals which lead to programmed death of hearing cells. Mitochondria are the “power plants” of cells and generate most of the cell’s supply of energy. They carry the maternal DNA of your cells and determine whether cells live or die. Oxidation of cells through free radicals trigger these life/death events of the cell. Scientists found that if they deplete the protein responsible for this process, they could restore normal hearing to mice in the study.
4. Acupuncture. Research out of Seoul, Korea College of Oriental Medicine, has shown that acupuncture can help sudden idiopathic sensorineural hearing loss. This is the loss of 30 db, or more, of hearing in 3 days time. Timely treatment with acupuncture showed improvement of regaining about 24.4 db of the loss even in cases where conventional treatments had failed. The favorable outcome was shown to be related to the interim of time in treating the condition – within 51 days of the onset of hearing loss.
Hearing loss can be a devastating, frustrating condition to live with that can make you irritable, depressed, and lead to physical illness. If you suffer any sudden hearing loss, see a doctor quickly, as timely treatment is important to a successful outcome. If it’s been a while since you’ve had your hearing tested, see your doctor and ask about scheduling a screening hearing test. Catching hearing loss sooner than later can help you prevent further loss.
Mark Rosenberg, M.D.
How Mitochondrial DNA Defects Cause Inherited Deafness, http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/02/120217115611.htm
What Hearing Loss Sounds Like,
Noise and Hearing Loss Prevention, http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/noise/stats.html
Who Invented the Hearing Aid? http://www.hearing-aids-wizard.com/who-invented-the-hearing-aid.html
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