Every day scientists are discovering new cures. That may be a positive or a negative. You might figure that you don’t really need to be very vigilant about your hearing because you read some promising research about potential future cures for deafness. By the time you start showing symptoms of hearing loss, you think, they’ll have found the cure for deafness.
That wouldn’t be wise. Obviously, safeguarding your hearing now while it’s still healthy would be the wiser choice. There is some exciting research emerging which is revealing some amazing strides toward effectively treating hearing loss.
Hearing loss stinks
Hearing loss is just a fact of life. It’s not necessarily because of something you did wrong. It’s just part of the aging process. But developing hearing loss has some extreme drawbacks. Not only can you hear less, but the disorder can affect your social life, your mental health, and your overall wellness. You will even increase your risk of developing dementia and depression with neglected hearing loss. Lots of research exists that reveals a link between social isolation and neglected hearing loss.
Usually, hearing loss is a chronic and degenerative condition. This means that there’s no cure and, over time, it’ll grow worse. That’s not true for every form of hearing loss, but more on that in a bit. But “no cure” is not the same as “no treatment”.
If you come see us, we can help slow down the development of your hearing loss and preserve your current levels of hearing. Hearing aids are frequently the form of treatment that will be most appropriate for most forms of hearing loss. So there are treatments for most people but there’s no cure. And your quality of life will be immensely improved by these treatments.
Two kinds of hearing loss
There are differences in types of hearing loss. Hearing loss comes in two principal categories. One can be cured, the other can be managed. Here’s how it breaks down:
- Conductive hearing loss: When the ear canal gets obstructed by something, you get this form of hearing loss. Possibly it’s a bunch of earwax (a bit gross, but it happens). Maybe, an ear infection is causing inflammation. Whatever it is, there’s something physically stopping sound waves from moving up to your inner ear. This kind of hearing loss will be cured when the source of the obstruction is eliminated.
- Sensorineural hearing loss: This form of hearing loss is irreversible. There are tiny hairs in your ear (called stereocilia) that sense minute vibrations in the air. These vibrations can be translated to sound by your brain. Unfortunately, these hairs are damaged as you go through life, typically by exceedingly loud noises. And once they are damaged, the hairs don’t function. And when this occurs your ability to hear becomes diminished. Your body won’t naturally regrow these hairs and we presently have no way to repair them. When you lose them, it’s forever.
Treatments for sensorineural hearing loss
Just because sensorineural hearing loss is permanent doesn’t mean it can’t be treated. Given your loss of hearing, allowing you to hear as much as you can is the purpose of treatment. The goal is to help you hear conversations, enhance your situational awareness, and keep you functioning independently through life.
So, what are these treatment strategies? Here are some prevalent treatments.
Most likely, the one most prevalent way of managing hearing loss is hearing aids. They’re particularly beneficial because hearing aids can be specifically tuned for your unique hearing loss. Using a hearing aid will allow you to better understand conversations and communicate with others during your day to day life. Many of the symptoms of social isolation can be staved off by using hearing aids (and the risk of depression and dementia as a result).
Getting your own pair of hearing aids is extremely common, and there are lots of styles to pick from. You’ll need to talk to us about which is ideal for you and your particular degree of hearing loss.
When hearing loss is complete, it often makes sense to bypass the ears entirely. That’s what a cochlear implant does. This device is surgically inserted into the ear. The device picks up on sounds and converts those sounds into electrical energy, which is then transferred directly to your cochlear nerve. This enables your brain to convert those signals into sounds.
When a person has a condition known as deafness, or total hearing loss, cochlear implants are sometimes used. So even if your hearing has completely gone, there are still treatment options available.
New novel ways of treating hearing loss are always being researched by scientists.
In the past, curing hearing loss has proven impossible, but that’s exactly what new advances are geared towards. Some of these advances include:
- Stem cell therapies: These treatments make use of stem cells from your own body. The idea is that these stem cells can then turn into new stereocilia (those delicate hairs in your ears). Studies with animals (like rats and mice) have shown some promise, but some form of prescription stem cell gene therapy still seems a long way off.
- Progenitor cell activation: So, stem cells in your ear originate the production of stereocilia. The stem cells go dormant after they develop stereocilia and are then referred to as progenitor cells. New treatments aim to reactivate these progenitor cells, stimulating them to once again grow new stereocilia. Encouraging results for these new therapies have come from early human trials. There was a substantial improvement, for most patients, in their ability to hear and understand speech. How long it will be before these therapies are widely available, however, is unknown.
- GFI1 Protein: There’s a protein which has been discovered by researchers that is crucial for the regrowth of stereocilia. Researchers are hoping that they can get a better idea of how to get these stereocilia to grow back by identifying this protein. This treatment is very much still on the drawing board and isn’t widely available yet.
Stay in the moment – deal with your hearing loss now
Some of these innovations are promising. But it’s important to emphasize that none of them are ready yet. Which means that it’s wise to live in the here and now. Protect your hearing today.
Don’t try and wait for that miracle cure, call us as soon as you can to schedule a hearing exam.