Ava Is My New Friend

Captions for the real world right on your phone.

I could only make out about half of what he was saying.  Up until then my hearing aids had done a fine job.  I was able to hear the previous speakers in the lecture hall with little or no problem.  But now I was frustrated.

Ava Lends An Ear

Fortunately I had a solution in my pocket.  An app called Ava.  I fired it up on my iPhone and the speaker’s words began scrolling across the screen.  It’s kind of like live captioning.

Very cool and very useful.

Ava debuted in November 2016, the creation of founders Thibault Duchemin, Pieter Doevendans and Skinner Cheng.

It’s not perfect, and it doesn’t get every word right every time.  In my experience it’s about 96 or 97 percent accurate if you’re speaking one on one with someone in a quiet room.  That tails off if you are in noisier environments.  No surprise there.

That’s why Ava is also designed connect a group of people around a dinner table, for example, as long as each of them has the app on their phones.


One issue confronting the developers, according to Pieter Doevendans, is that many potential users are older folks who are not always tech savvy.

“Our ultimate goal is to make it easy and smooth to use”, he says,  “As simple as just pulling your phone out of your pocket to provide a convenient 24/7 experience.”

Also in the future, they are looking at developing AR capabilities.  One day you may be able to put on a pair of special glasses that puts the captions right before your eyes.

But make no mistake, Ava is well worth getting right now.

You can download either IOS or Android versions right here on their download page.

 

Deaf Hef Blamed Viagra

“He said he would rather have sex than have his hearing.”

Could Viagra cause hearing loss?

The late Hugh Hefner thought so according to three of the women in his life.   His widow Chrystal Harris told Howard Stern back in 2011 that, “He tries not to take Viagra any more because it makes him lose his hearing.”

Chrystal Harris, Hugh Hefner, Karissa & Kristina Shannon

In another interview that same year Hefner’s former twin lovers Karissa and Kristina Shannon made a similar claim.

Karissa told The Sun “He said he would rather have sex than have his hearing. He has hearing aids now and even then he can only hear out of one ear.”

“You have to lean down and talk into his good ear for him to understand you.  We could sit right next to him and he wouldn’t have a clue what we said.”

Was Viagra to Blame?

There is some tenuous evidence that the class of drugs known as PDE-5 inhibitors such as Viagra, Cialis and Levitra  may induce sensorineural hearing loss.  A 2007 study found that a few men reported suffering from sudden sensorineural hearing loss (SSHL) after taking PDE-5 inhibitors.

It’s important to note that there has been no proven causal link, and that SSHL is extremely rare.  But it was enough for the FDA to require that a warning be included on the labels of PDE-5 inhibitors.

As for Hefner’s hearing loss, well, he was in his nineties after all.

The Drugs You Should Worry About

There are roughly 200 drugs that have been shown to cause hearing loss, including some that may already be in your medicine cabinet.

They are known as ototoxics, oto meaning ear and toxic, of course, means poison. They can result in temporary or permanent damage. If you are already suffering from hearing loss you should be aware that these drugs may cause you to lose more.

Continue reading “Deaf Hef Blamed Viagra”

Hearing Loss, Hair Cells & Hope

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.

Dr. Jeffery Harris

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:

Iron and Hearing Loss

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”.

Stanford University & Hope for a Hearing Loss Cure

“In the last five years the pharmaceutical industry has woken up and there are now about 30 biotech companies right now focused on finding a cure for some forms of hearing loss.” – Prof. Stefan Heller

It may well be the most comprehensive and ambitious research program of its kind and the Stanford Initiative to Cure Hearing Loss (SICHL) mission statement reflects that:

“The goal of the Stanford Initiative to Cure Hearing Loss is to devise treatments that repair the damaged ear and restore lost hearing, quiet tinnitus, and improve balance.”

How far have they come toward achieving that goal? Continue reading “Stanford University & Hope for a Hearing Loss Cure”

FDA Fast Tracks Review of AM-111

More hope on the horizon for those of us suffering from sensorineural hearing loss.  Auris, a Swiss biopharmaceutical company, is developing a promising drug called AM-111.

It’s now in clinical trials and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has just approved it for a “Fast Track” designation.  That means it will now undergo a speeded up review process.

I will be following this development closely.  More reports to come. Meanwhile, here’s the company’s press release:

Continue reading “FDA Fast Tracks Review of AM-111”

A Breakthrough in Curing 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.

The MIT press release and another from Brigham and Women’s Hospital have some of the details about the research that was published in the scientific journal The Cell Reports.

For more on the search for a cure check out my posts on CFG166, research at Sunnybrook in Toronto and the Pasteur Institute in Paris.

 

CGF166 – The Latest News

“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”

Bluetooth and a Birthday

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.

January 9, 2007

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.

So what’s next? Continue reading “Bluetooth and a Birthday”