Can Hearing Loss Be Cured?

Yellow question mark on a background of black sign to reiterate the question; is there a cure for hearing loss.

New cures are always being discovered. That can be a good thing and a bad thing. For example, you might look at promising new research in the arena of curing hearing loss and decide you don’t really need to be all that careful. By the time you start showing symptoms of hearing loss, you think, they’ll have discovered the cure for deafness.

That would be unwise. Without a doubt, it’s better to protect your hearing while you have it. Scientists are making some phenomenal strides when it comes to treating hearing loss, though including some possible cures in the future.

Hearing loss stinks

Hearing loss is just something that happens. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad person or you did something wrong or you’re being punished. It just… is. But there are some definite drawbacks to experiencing hearing loss. Not only do you hear less, but the condition can impact your social life, your mental health, and your long term wellness. Untreated hearing loss can even lead to an increased risk of depression and dementia. There’s plenty of evidence to link untreated hearing loss to issues such as social isolation.

In general, 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 type of hearing loss–but more on that in a bit.) But “no cure” is not the same as “no treatment.”

Modern hearing specialists can help you maintain your levels of hearing and slow the progression of hearing loss. Often, this comes in the form of a hearing aid–which is usually the optimal treatment for most types of hearing loss. So, for most people: there’s no cure, but there are treatments. And those treatments can do a world of good when it comes to improving your quality of life.

Two types of hearing loss

Not all hearing loss is the same. There are two primary categories of hearing loss. One can be cured; the other can be treated. Here’s how it breaks down:

  • Conductive hearing loss: This type of hearing loss occurs because something gets in the way and blocks your ear canal. Maybe it’s a clump of earwax (a little gross, but it happens). Maybe it’s inflammation from an ear infection. Whatever it is, there’s something physically blocking soundwaves from traveling up to your inner ear. This type of hearing loss can indeed be cured–usually by removing the obstruction (or treating whatever is causing the obstruction in the first place).
  • Sensorineural hearing loss: This is the more permanent form of hearing loss. There are tiny hairs in your ear (called stereocilia) that sense minute vibrations in the air. Your brain is able to interpret these vibrations as sound. Unfortunately, these hairs are damaged as you go through life–usually by overly loud noises. And once they are damaged, the hairs no longer function. This reduces your ability to hear. There’s currently no way to repair these hairs–and your body doesn’t make new ones naturally. 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. The purpose of any such treatment is to let you hear as much as possible given your hearing loss. The goal is to help you hear conversations, improve your situational awareness, and keep you functioning independently through life.

So, what are these treatment methods? Common treatments include the following.

Hearing aids

Hearing aids are probably the single most common means of treating hearing loss. They’re especially useful because hearing aids can be specifically calibrated for your unique hearing loss. Wearing a hearing aid will let you better understand conversations and interact with others over the course of your day to day life. Hearing aids can even forestall many symptoms of social isolation (and, as a result, lower your risk of dementia and depression).

Getting your own pair of hearing aids is incredibly common–and there are many styles to choose from. You’ll have to talk to your hearing specialist about which is best for you and your particular level of hearing loss.

Cochlear implants

When hearing loss is total, it sometimes makes sense to bypass the ears altogether. That’s what a cochlear implant does. 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. This enables your brain to translate those signals into sounds.

Cochlear implants are usually used when hearing loss is complete, a condition known as deafness. So even if your hearing has gone away completely, there are still treatment options available.

Novel advances

Scientists are always working on new ways to treat hearing loss.

These new advances are often geared towards “curing” hearing loss in a way that has previously proven impossible. Some of these advances include:

  • Stem cell therapies: These therapies use stem cells from your own body. The idea is that these stem cells can then turn into new stereocilia (those tiny hairs in your ears). Studies with mammals (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, stem cells in your ear originate the creation of stereocilia. 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, encouraging them to once again grow new stereocilia. This particular novel therapy has been tried in humans, and the results seem encouraging. Most patients noticed a significant improvement in their ability to hear and understand speech. How long before these treatments are widely available, however, is unknown.
  • GFI1 Protein: Some researchers have identified a protein that’s critical to growing new stereocilia. It’s hoped that by identifying this protein, researchers will get a better idea of how to get those stereocilia to start growing back. Again, this is one of those treatments that’s more in the “drawing board” phase than the “widely available” stage.

Live in the moment–treat your hearing loss now

Many 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. And if you are experiencing hearing loss, seek out treatment. The newest gene therapy may not be available–but hearing aids and other treatments can help you in the meantime.

A miracle cure likely isn’t coming soon, so if you’re struggling with hearing loss, find a hearing specialist near you.

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