Hearing aids help, and I couldn’t function without them. But for those of us afflicted by sensorineural (age related) hearing loss there is now the tantalizing possibility of a cure on the horizon.
Researchers around the world are working on it. I’ve talked with several, and the main focus of their attention are the hair cells and their supporting cells which line the cochlea.
They transform the vibrations produced by sound into electrical signals that are transmitted to the brain. But as we age they die off. They are killed by loud noises, certain drugs and faulty genes. The holy grail in this quest is to find a way to bring them back to life.
One of those scientists leading the charge is Dr. Jeffery Harris. He is Chief of the Division of Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery at the University of California, San Diego. Not only is he a renowned surgeon but he also leads a team of researchers who are studying the causes of deafness.
In this new video, Dr. Harris gives a clear and concise explanation of the current state of the research and offers more than a glimmer of hope:
An important new study reveals a tantalizing new clue about hearing loss.
Iron deficiency anemia (IDA) has been linked to hearing loss in a major study conducted by researchers at Penn State’s Milton S. Hershey Medical Center.
They studied over 300,000 people, ranging from the young to the elderly. Among the findings, the risk of sensorineural hearing loss was 82% higher among those with low iron levels in their blood.
Your bone marrow needs iron to produce hemoglobin for the red blood cells that carry oxygen throughout the body. Iron deficiency can cause symptoms ranging from fatigue to muscle weakness and maybe, just maybe, play a role in hearing loss.
But the study’s lead author, Kathleen P. Schieffer, emphasizes that, “Our study does not say that iron deficiency causes hearing loss, but only that there is a link between the two.”
She also does not recommend that anyone take iron supplements without first consulting a doctor.
The reason for the link is unknown but one theory is gaining ground. We know from animal studies that iron deficiency reduces the flow of hemoglobin to the cochlea and that the auditory nerve cells need a lot of oxygen.
The report concludes that “further research is needed to better understand the potential links between IDA and hearing loss and whether screening and treatment of IDA in adults could have clinical implications in patients with hearing loss”.
Another promising development in research into restoring hearing.
The key to restoring lost hearing is finding a way to re-grow hair cells in the cochlea. We’re born with about 30,000 of these tiny sound detectors and because of exposure to noise, age and some types of antibiotics they die off.
The good news: researchers around the world are working to develop techniques to regenerate hairs cells. Now comes word that a team at MIT, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and Massachusetts Eye and Ear have discovered a combination of drugs that does just that. At least it works in mice.
“There have been a couple patients with hearing improvement, so we are definitely encouraged.” – Dr. Lawrence Lustig
There is no cure for sensorineural hearing loss, the type that most of us with aging ears suffer from. At least not yet. But as I’ve written about in earlier posts, a pioneering treatment may be on the way. It’s called CGF166. It’s the only gene therapy for hearing loss now undergoing human trials in the U.S. and early reports are promising. Here’s a progress report. Continue reading “CGF166 – The Latest News”
I generally don’t recommend online hearing tests since they can’t replace a proper test by a qualified audiologist. But this one is simple to do, and it offers a rough idea of the state of your hearing. It was posted by Ontario’s Workplace Safety and Insurance board.
Smartphone apps have changed the way we cope with hearing loss. What’s next?
This is an auspicious day for those of us with hearing loss. Steve Jobs likely wasn’t thinking much about hearing aids when he stood on stage ten years ago and held up that very first iPhone.
As he touted its revolutionary features he made a passing reference to its bluetooth capability. At the time bluetooth was used primarily to connect mobile phones with car systems and earpieces.
A decade, and one billion iPhones later, bluetooth now puts the power to connect, control and adjust hearing aids in the palm of your hand. Every major hearing aid maker now offers bluetooth apps for both iPhones and Android devices.
What’s going on between your ears when you’re losing your hearing? Emerging research is beginning to give us some revealing, and disturbing answers about brain function and hearing loss. But it also offers some hope.
First the bad news: Take a look at this picture.
On the left, is the brain of a person with normal hearing and the areas that process sound are lit up as they should be. But on the right is the brain of a person with mild hearing loss. As you can see there’s less activity and what there is has shifted to other areas. Continue reading “Mind Reading Hearing Aids?”