Science knows a lot about hearing loss and how to prevent it. In recent years, the concluding of multi-year studies have given us insight into how various elements can cause or worsen hearing loss. These include loud noise, high blood pressure, drastic pressure changes, genetics, stress and some OTC medications among others.
We now better understand how untreated hearing loss impacts overall health, increasing risk of dementia, depression, anxiety, falls, ER visits and lengthy hospital stays. We now recognize that hearing loss isn’t an inevitability of getting older. It’s 100% preventable. And, thanks to advancements in hearing aid technology, it’s usually treatable.
Despite the fact that we now so much, there is always more to learn. What researchers learn in the next 5 to 10 years could completely transform what we think we know today.
That’s why we’re excited to see the increased funding being invested into hearing loss research.
Hearing Loss & DNA
We know that there is a genetic component to hearing loss. In some cases, hearing loss runs in families.
About 30% of genetic hearing loss is due to a syndrome passed from parent to child. The other 70% is called “non-syndrome hearing loss.” Non-syndrome hearing loss is caused by a gene mutation on the DNA strand.
One gene we know about is GJB2. This gene contains the instructions for how to build the proteins that make up the cochlea in your inner ear.
People with genetic hearing loss may be born with normal hearing. But as they age, the hearing begins to decline even if they’ve taken steps to protect their hearing.
$3 Million Award for Genetic Hearing Loss Research
Seven scientists were recently awarded $3 million for a groundbreaking study on how to edit the genes associated with hearing loss.
This Kavli Award, issued by the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters, recognizes the potential impact of this research in the development of future prevention and treatment for hearing loss. This kind of investment will help encourage researchers to continue hearing loss research.
Having the ability to edit these genes means that future patients could potentially undergo a procedure to have the gene that causes genetic hearing loss turned off or modified to stop hearing loss.
Among the recipients are A. James Hudspeth, a researcher at Rockefeller University in New York, Robert Fettiplace, a researcher at University of Wisconsin, Madison and Christine Petit, a researcher at the College of France and the Pasteur Institute in Paris.
Hearing Loss & the Military
Military personnel are exposed to threats those who haven’t served can’t imagine. For a very long time, hearing loss was just thought of as an inevitable casualty of service. After all, it’s not as bad as lost limbs or death, right? As we learn more about how hearing loss impacts overall health, new efforts are being made to protect soldiers from hazards that cause hearing loss.
$2 Million Grant to Study Military Hearing Loss
A company in Massachusetts called Frequency Therapeutics recently received a $2 million grant for the US Department Defense Department to study hearing loss among those who serve.
The studies focus will be on progenitor cell activation (PCA). This procedure is used to repair damaged tissue. Their goal is to use this technology to restore hearing by repairing and regenerating the tiny damaged hair cells in the inner ear. These hair cells are responsible for picking up sounds and communicating with the brain regarding their frequency and volume.
We interpret this frequency and volume as language and other sounds in the environment.
Currently, there is no known way to repair these cells. Once they are damaged or die, they don’t regenerate like other cells in the body. This is why noise-induced hearing loss is permanent.
This study may represent a huge breakthrough in how we treat hearing loss. If successful, it might also be applied to treat celiac disease, the condition that causes people to have to eat gluten-free foods. This intestinal disease is also caused by the death of tiny hair cells that can’t regenerate by themselves.
Frequency Therapeutics previously raised $32 to put toward similar hearing loss research demonstrating their commitment to finding new ways to restore hearing.
Treating Hearing Loss Today
Until these treatments can move from theories and studies to real-world applications, the best treatment for hearing loss is still a hearing aid. Today’s hearing aids are advanced and integrated with common technologies like TV, sound systems and smartphone to enhance the hearing experience.