New Research Regarding Hearing Loss
Latest research findings from the Association for Research in Otolaryngology (ARO) Midwinter Meeting have promising news for those with hearing loss. The conference included a wide array of information regarding the most current research, one of the primary topics being hearing loss.
The research on hearing loss that is concealed (or hidden) was discussed. Hidden hearing damage is generally caused by trauma to your inner ear potentially due to prolonged exposure to loud noises. This harmful exposure can result in deterioration of the delicate hair follicles within the portion of the inner ear which carries sound impulses to your brain. This can result in permanent loss of hearing, although this type of hearing loss may also be temporary. Even though there is damage to the hair cells, this hearing damage is often undetected by regular hearing examinations, which is why it is known as “hidden hearing loss.”
The conference stated that even though people with hidden damage to hearing appear to have no apparent trouble hearing conversations, they may have trouble focusing on sounds in the presence of loud background noise. The research team also listed the importance of emphasizing hearing protection to prevent this type of hearing loss.
Current research has difficulty pointing at noise exposure as the root cause of hidden damage to hearing, based on the conference findings. Structured interviews are being created to explore this potential cause in places like Nottingham as well as Manchester. Extraneous factors need to be eliminated as potential causes for the hearing damage, which is why more comprehensive and personalized questioning procedures need to be developed to account for individual differences.
Another topic of discussion was cochlear implants, which currently utilize electric pulses in order to send sound signals to the auditory nerve which would allow hearing impaired people to recognize sounds. Unfortunately, these electrical pulses often end up sending scrambled sound signals. This can make it difficult to decipher especially in loud environments or when trying to decipher complicated sounds such as the ones in music or speech. Cochlear implants thereby having a limited capacity to aid hearing impaired individuals to hear properly.
A recent development in cochlear implants, as discussed in the conference, was that of light-based ones. This light-based implant utilizes blue or infrared light to stimulate the auditory nerve in a much more accurate manner which can provide better hearing ability. However, the prerequisite of this treatment method includes the ability of the auditory nerve cells to react to the light. Some people may require gene therapy to prep them in order to receive the blue light, but the infrared light requires no such therapy since our bodies are already well-equipped to respond positively towards infrared light.
One major disadvantage of using light in cochlear implants is that too much exposure to the light may cause further damage to the cells within the ear due to the heat produced by the powerful light. Work is underway to lower the required power to stimulate the ear’s auditory cells so that it can decrease the amount of heat generated and keep the ear cells intact. These new research findings bring promise to those with hearing loss.