OK, the first thing I want to say is that there really isn’t any such thing as a hearing loss “cure” – at least not right now. But scientists are working on it, and there are some promising developments along the way. There are also some unusual approaches that you might find interesting. We’ll report on the “cures” here, and try to distinguish between those that sound like legitimate science and those that don’t.
The best things currently available are hearing aids, assistive listening devices, and cochlear implants.
One promising new technology is hair cell regeneration, which is the growing of new cochlear cells to replace damaged or missing hair cells that cause hearing loss. One technique for initiating this regeneration isstem cell therapy.
There are also promising advances being made in the development of pharmaceuticals to prevent and/or treat some types of hearing loss.
December 2000 – Injected Antioxidants Show Promise in Reversing Hearing Loss
January 2001 – Antiviral Drug Helps Reverse Sudden Hearing Loss
March 2001 – Patient Regains Some Hearing Through Blood Filtering
March 2001 – The vast majority of hearing problems are caused by a cochlea that’s not working as it should. More specifically, the problem is generally caused by missing or damaged hair cells that don’t properly transmit the acoustic information to the acoustic nerve. One possibility to address this situation is the development of an artificial cochlea.
April 2001 – Embryo Cells Contribute to Hearing Restoration
October 2002 – Chinese Doctor Claims Sensorineural Deafness Cure
October 2003 – What about acupuncture as a hearing loss treatment.Read our readers’ experiences here!
October 2004 – We’re getting closer and closer to understanding how sound vibrations cause an electrical signal to be sent over the auditory nerve. The folks at Harvard Medical recently reported a major discovery, the TRPA1 molecule. Here’s their press release.
February 2005 – I’ve heard discussions of artificial cochlea for several years. Now the folks at the University of Michigan have come up with one!
August 2005 – Researchers at the University of Iowa have discovered how to prevent the expression of a gene that causes hereditary deafness in mice!
October 2005 – Steroids have been the treatment of choice for sudden hearing loss for some time now. That treatment works in some cases, but not in others. Scientists at the University of Michigan may have figured out why that is, and figured out how to predict who will benefit and who won’t.
January 2006 – Pop! Skier regains hearing at 7,000 ft
May 2006 – Aspirin Can Prevent Hearing Loss from Ototoxic Medication
August 2006 – Protein Tied to Usher Syndrome May Be Hearing’s “Missing Link”
September 2006 – Intratympanic Steroids for Treatment of Sudden Hearing Loss
February 2007 – Genetic Hearing Loss May Be Reversible Without Gene Therapy
March 2007 – Santa Cruz Doctor Fights Surfer’s Ear With New Technique
March 2007 – Nutrients May Prevent Noise Induced Hearing Loss
May 2007 – Auditory Nerve Implant Next Big Hearing Loss Breakthrough?
May 2007 – Quest for a Cure: Recent findings advance scientists’ understanding of hearing loss
August 2008 – Cochlea “Reprogramming” and Artificial Cochlea Under Investigation
October 2008 – Project Eurohear: Bringing the Genetic Basis of Deafness to Light
November 2008 – Artificial cochlea may help to recover hearing
December 2008 – Brain Cell Hope For Hearing Loss
December 2008 – Advances in hearing research in 2008
March 2009 – Scientists find hearing loss gene
March 2009 – UK Study Offers Clues To Beating Hearing Loss
April 2009 – Holding out hope of a cure for deafness
June 2009 – Edging Toward A Cure For Hearing Loss And Deafness
July 2009 – Drug Shrinks NF2 Tumors
July 2009 – CEI Treats Children with Missing or Malformed Ears and/or Ear Canals
December 2009 – Scientific breakthrough could bring repair of hearing loss closer
January 2010 – Recent Advances in Biological Restoration of Hearing
May 2010 – New Laser Portends Improved Stapendotomy Results
Injected Antioxidants Show Promise in Reversing Hearing Loss
You may know that free radicals have been implicated as one of the causes of signs of aging. They are highly reactive molecules that disrupt the structure of normal cellular components. One of the activities of free radicals is to destroy cochlear hair cells, which transmit acoustic information to the auditory nerve. Recent investigations demonstrate that loud noises and certain chemicals cause the production of free radicals within the ear.
As you might expect, there are lots of loud noises in the military, and the resulting free radical production degrades the hearing of an estimated ten percent of active duty servicemen and costs the various military agencies over a billion dollars a year. So, military researchers are very interested in understanding this phenomenon and doing something about it.
They have recently come up with a promising treatment. Scientists at the Naval Medical Center in San Diego have developed a tiny catheter that they insert between the middle ear and the inner ear. The catheter releases antioxidants, which neutralize the free radicals and prevent damage to the hair cells. Initial tests have successfully restored hearing and balance in some individuals; larger tests are planned.
Antiviral Drug Helps Reverse Sudden Hearing Loss
One of the most perplexing things about some cases of sudden hearing loss is the inability of doctors to determine the cause or specify a successful treatment. I’ve met many people who suffered sudden hearing loss and never learned the cause. Some were given steroids; sometimes these helped and sometimes they didn’t.
A recent article from WebMD (http://onhealth.webmd.com/conditions/briefs/wire/item,101561.asp) reports that combining an antiviral drug with the normal steroid treatment successfully reverses sudden hearing loss caused by an upper respiratory viral infection in 83 percent of the cases tested. If current studies confirm these results, the combined treatment may soon become the treatment of choice in these cases.
Dr. George Gates of the University of Washington in Seattle estimates that about 10,000 such cases occur annually in the United States. The precise cause of the hearing loss is still not known, but it may be related to swelling and inflammation in the ears.
The research was conducted by Hesham Zagloul and Mohamed Ghonim of Mansoura University in Mansoura, Egypt. They reported that patients who get treatment within a day of losing their hearing do much better than those who wait.
Patient Regains Some Hearing Through Blood Filtering
Every so often, we stumble on a bizarre hearing loss “cure” that we like to share with our readers. Some of them are probably bogus, while others may be surprisingly effective. The Kansas City Star recently reported the case of a man named Will Standley, whose hearing was partially restored through blood filtering.
Mr. Standley woke up one night with his head spinning and unable to hear in his right ear. The standard treatments for sudden hearing loss (including steroids and anti-viral drugs) failed to restore his hearing. In the course of researching hearing loss on the internet, Mr. Standley learned that cholesterol filtering has been found by German researchers to restore hearing in some patients with sudden hearing loss. At a loss for other treatment, Mr. Standley drove to the University of Kansas Medical Center for the experimental procedure.
It seems to have worked!
The filtering process was originally developed to treat people whose high cholesterol cannot be handled using standard techniques. The technique filters the LDL (bad cholesterol) from the blood.
When doctors performed the procedure on Mr. Standley, he noticed a reduction in tinnitus before the procedure was even complete. Standard hearing tests conducted before and after the filtering showed a dramatic increase in his hearing following the procedure.
Doctors speculate on reasons that blood filtering restores (partial) hearing in some cases, but they really don’t know why it works.
Embryo Cells Contribute to Hearing Restoration
The “Irish Independent” recently reported on a new therapy for treating hearing loss – implanting cells from embryos into the ear.
Researchers at Bristol University Medical School have removed immature cells from the ears of ten-day-old mouse embryos and injected them into the ears of deaf mice, where they stimulated the damaged hearing nerve to grow and begin to function.
The researchers are now ready to begin human trials. Professor Matthew Holley, who has performed much of this research, predicts these efforts will result in a new cellular treatment for deafness within five years. Professor Holley believes human treatment will initially involve people with existing cochlear implants, but his long term goal is to develop cells that can result in the elimination of the cochlear implant.
Professor Holley also said that his research would not require a continuous supply of human embryos, because cells can be repeatedly grown from an initial sample.
Chinese Doctor Claims Sensorineural Deafness Cure
Editor: Every so often we read about a “miracle cure” for deafness. The latest is from a Chinese doctor named Dr. Wang Jiazheng, who claims to have a successful treatment for sensorineural deafness. We advise you to take this information with a grain of salt! BTW, the website is sporadic, so if you can’t connect on your first attempt, try again later. Here’s the information, as it appeared in bhNEWS.
For long time the medical circle holds that once the aural nerve cell is destroyed, it could not be revived. During more than 20 years’ research and medical practice, Wang found a set of methods to cure the sensorineural deafness and brought thousands of deaf men to hearing. He broke the conclusion and established his theory about sensorineural deafness. Then by many experiments he proved that the destroyed aural cells could be revived and regenerated.
He is the first man in the world who put forth the sensorineural cell regenerative theory. In 1994 the theory was tested and passed the national level appraisal of China. It is recognized in the medical field as “regenerable theory”.
Pop! Skier regains hearing at 7,000 ft
At 72, being profoundly deaf had become an unfortunate, but inevitable, part of life for former soldier Derek Glover. Until a skiing holiday with his daughter in the Italian Dolomites. At 7,000 ft, Mr Glover was travelling on a ski lift when he heard a loud pop, and his hearing had returned. Full Story
Santa Cruz Doctor Fights Surfer’s Ear With New Technique
A Santa Cruz doctor has developed a new technique to give surfers relief from surfer’s ear, which can lead to painful infections and possibly hearing loss, NBC11’s Marianne Favro reported. After surfing for 34 years, Randy Marty has developed surfer’s ear. As a result, he’s lost significant hearing in his right ear, and his left ear was even worse. “The last four and a half months, I went completely deaf. (I) could hear nothing at all,” Marty said. Marty went to the Santa Cruz Medical Clinic, where Dr. Douglas Hetzler performed a new procedure he helped develop to remove bone growths that had built up in Marty’s ear canals. “(Surfer’s ear) occurs as a result of cold water exposure in the ear canal over thousands of hours, which causes new bone to form causing ear infections and reversible hearing loss,” said Dr. Douglas Hetzler of the Santa Cruz Medical Clinic. Full Story
Quest for a Cure: Recent findings advance scientists’ understanding of hearing loss
(NIDCD) and the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, CA, reported the discovery of two proteins that pair up to form “tip links,” the fine filaments that connect the bristlelike structures, called stereocilia, that sit atop hair cells in the inner ear. Tip links are believed to be responsible for opening and closing channels on the surface of the stereocilia, allowing sound energy to be converted into electrical signals interpreted by the brain. While there is no surgical remedy or curative elixir yet in sight, most scientists no longer doubt that a treatment for sensorineural hearing loss will be discovered someday. The question is “When?” Many researchers say it will take 10 to 20 years to develop a cure, if not longer. Full Story
Project Eurohear: Bringing the Genetic Basis of Deafness to Light
The outlook to new tools for preventing and curing HI is a significant part of the programme: providing experimental evidence that pharmacological compounds can significantly reduce the progression of hearing impairment will lead to clinical studies and more efficient treatment strategies. Recent observations on cell and gene therapy, as well as the discovery of inner ear progenitor cells, suggest entirely new means for treating the inner ear. Within the next five years, EuroHear expects to prove this concept. Full Story
Brain cell hope for hearing loss
Scientists believe a transplant of brain cells may one day be able to reverse a common form of hearing loss. Damage to hair cells in the inner ear due to ageing and overstimulation causes hearing problems in 10% of people worldwide. The cell loss is irreversible, but US scientists believe it may be possible to replace them with stem cells from a region of the brain. The study appears in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The key ependymal cells come from the lining of the lateral ventricle of the brain. They share characteristics with inner ear hair cells – but crucially, unlike them, they have the ability to reproduce. Full Story
CEI Treats Children with Missing or Malformed Ears and/or Ear Canals
I found this video fascinating, partially because I had no idea that these sorts of procedures were even available. Parts of the video are a bit graphic, but those who don’t mind watching surgical procedures will hopefully find this video as fascinating as I did. Full Story
Recent Advances in Biological Restoration of Hearing
Hearing loss can occur in people of all ages, from newborns to the elderly. While the initial causes of hearing loss can be diverse, including viral infections, genetic mutations and long-term exposure to loud noise, in most cases, what ultimately occurs is damage to or death of the cells located within the cochlea, the snail shaped portion of the inner ear, resulting in hearing loss. . . . While both hearing aids and cochlear implants often provide good recovery of hearing function, the development of a biological method to induce the production, or regeneration, of new hair cells has the potential to completely restore normal hearing without any type of prosthesis.