For those suffering from hearing loss, or worried about the potential for hearing loss in the next few years, the future may seem bleak.
But we also know that technology is constantly changing the way we think about health and hearing loss. In fact since both Europe and the UK are faced with an ageing population, even more attention is being given to finding ways to use technology to help those with hearing loss.
Hearing loss can affect people in numerous ways, making them feel misunderstood, alienated, and frustrated. While hearing aids have greatly helped those with hearing loss, science is beginning to help us understand how hearing loss happens, and how we can slow its progression.
Hearing loss occurs due to a variety of different factors. These include exposure to too much noise (e.g having your headphones up too loud or not using safety gear when working around loud tools), genetics (if one of your parents has hearing loss you may find that you end up with it too), as well as things like chronic ear infections, infections diseases, birth complications, drugs, and of course, simply getting older.
As the birth rate has dropped significantly in many countries around the world, and the global population is ageing, a greater percentage of people will be suffering from things like sensorineural loss. This means that the sensory hair cells inside the inner ear are either dying or failing, and these are the cells which convert vibrations into noise, allowing us to hear what’s going on around us. These hair cells are also sensitive to some types of drugs, being over-exposed to noise and both bacterial and viral infections.
Most individuals will suffer from age-related hearing loss as they get older, and almost a third of adults between 65 and 74 years old will have some form of a hearing deficit.
Cochlear implants have been used to treat hearing loss for many years. The implants electrically stimulate the spiral ganglion neurons which are located in the cochlea. The problem? This is a condition which gets progressively worse, meaning that the implant cannot be the whole solution. Luckily, researchers are beginning to look into different therapies which would prevent hair cells from dying, and keep the sensory connections once the device is implanted.
Instead of treating hearing loss, many drug therapies are currently looking at how we can prevent hearing loss from occurring in the first place. In fact, a study is taking place in Europe which looks at injecting a gel into the ear which would prevent hearing being lost by infections or loud noises.
Gene therapy is another option, and is another way in which therapeutic compounds could be delivered straight into the cochlea. The idea is that materials would be introduced which could be genetically replicated, replacing the broken or missing element in the hair cell. So for those with hearing loss, it’s important to stay optimistic and know that researchers around the world are aiming to fix this widespread problem. For more information, check out this article, which is a post about the future of hearing loss treatment.