Every day scientists are discovering new cures. That can be a good thing and a bad thing. You might think that you don’t really have to be all that careful about your hearing because you read some encouraging research about potential future cures for deafness. You’ll feel like they will most likely have a cure for deafness by the time you will notice any symptoms of hearing loss.
That would be unwise. Without question, it’s better to protect your hearing while you can. Scientists are making some amazing advances when it comes to treating hearing loss though, including some possible cures in the future.
It isn’t any fun to lose your hearing
Hearing loss is just a fact of life. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad person or you did something wrong or you’re being punished. It’s just part of the aging process. But there are some distinct drawbacks to experiencing hearing loss. Your social life, general health, and mental health can be considerably impacted by hearing loss, along with your inability to hear what’s going on around you. You will even increase your risk of developing dementia and depression with untreated hearing loss. Lots of evidence exists that reveals a link between social isolation and neglected hearing loss.
Usually, hearing loss is a persistent and degenerative problem. So, over time, it will keep getting worse and there isn’t any cure. This doesn’t pertain to every kind of hearing loss but we’ll get to that soon. 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 maintain your current levels of hearing. Hearing aids are often the form of treatment that will be most ideal for most kinds of hearing loss. So there are treatments for most individuals but there’s no cure. And those treatments can do a lot of good when it comes to improving your quality of life.
Two kinds of hearing loss
Not all hearing loss is identical. There are two main classes of hearing loss. One can be cured, the other can be managed. Here’s what you need to know:
- Conductive hearing loss: When the ear canal gets blocked by something, you get this kind of hearing loss. Possibly it’s a clump of earwax (a little gross, but it happens). Possibly, an ear infection is causing inflammation. When something is obstructing your ear canals, whatever it might be, sound waves won’t be able to get to your inner ear. This type of hearing loss can certainly be cured, usually by eliminating the obstruction (or treating whatever is creating the obstruction in the first place).
- Sensorineural hearing loss: This is the more irreversible form of hearing loss. There are fragile hairs in your ear (called stereocilia) that sense minute vibrations in the air. Your brain is capable of interpreting these vibrations as sound. As you go through life, these hairs get damaged, by loud noises usually. And these hairs stop working after they get damaged. This diminishes your ability to hear. Your body won’t naturally regrow these hairs and we presently have no way to heal them. Once they’re gone, they’re gone.
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 common treatments.
Most likely, the one most prevalent way of managing hearing loss is hearing aids. They’re especially beneficial because hearing aids can be specially calibrated for your distinct hearing loss. During the course of your day, a hearing aid will help you make out conversations and interact with people better. Many of the symptoms of social solitude can be prevented by wearing hearing aids (and the danger of depression and dementia as a result).
There are many different styles of hearing aid to choose from and they have become a lot more common. You’ll need to speak with 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. A cochlear implant does just that. This device is surgically inserted into the ear. The device picks up on sounds and translates those sounds into electrical energy, which is then transferred directly to your cochlear nerve. Your brain then interprets those signals as sound.
Cochlear implants are normally used when hearing loss is total, a condition called deafness. So even if your hearing has gone away completely, there are still treatment options available.
Scientists are continuously working on new ways to treat hearing loss.
These new advances are often geared towards “curing” hearing loss in ways that have previously proven impossible. Some of these advances include:
- Stem cell therapies: Your own stem cells are used in this type of therapy. The idea is that new stereocilia can be produced by these stem cells (those little hairs in your ears). Studies with animals (like rats and mice) have shown some promise, but some kind of prescription stem cell gene therapy still seems a long way off.
- Progenitor cell activation: So the stereocilia in your ear are being created by your body’s stem cells. Once the stereocilia develop, the stem cells go dormant, and they are then referred to as progenitor cells. New therapies seek to reactivate these progenitor cells, stimulating them to once again grow new stereocilia. This particular novel therapy has been used in humans, and the outcomes seem encouraging. Most patients noticed a substantial improvement in their ability to hear and comprehend speech. How long it will be before these treatments are widely available, however, is unknown.
- GFI1 Protein: Some scientists have discovered a protein that’s essential to growing new stereocilia. It’s hoped that by finding this protein, researchers will get a better idea of how to get those stereocilia to start growing back. This treatment is very much still on the drawing board and isn’t widely available yet.
Live in the moment – deal with your hearing loss now
There’s a great deal of promise in these innovations. But let’s not forget that none of them are available to the public right now. So it’s not a good idea to wait to get treatment for your hearing loss. Be proactive about protecting your hearing.
A miracle cure likely isn’t coming soon, so if you’re coping with hearing loss, give us a call to schedule your hearing test.