Massachusetts Eye and Ear and Harvard Medical School researchers have discovered a gene in mice that can prevent age related hearing loss and noise induced hearing loss. This exciting study heralds hope that not only will their one day be a way to prevent these types of hearing loss in humans, but that there may also be a way to correct them.
Inside the ear are small, delicate hairs that help conduct the noise that constitutes your hearing. Injury to these hair cells comes from exposure, sudden or prolonged, to loud noises and often from the process of aging itself. These types of hearing loss are called noise induced hearing loss (NIHL) and age related hearing loss (ARHL). In an article published in The Journal of Neuroscience and reported on in Science Daily, a team of researchers has uncovered promising hope for preventing and perhaps reversing age related and noise related hearing loss.
By studying inbred mice, researching found a gene Isl1 that not only provided a fountain of youth for hair cells when it came to aging, but that also protected hair cells that had been exposed to loud noises. Meaning mice with this gene, even after age and exposure to loud noise, had better hearing than those who did not have the benefit of this gene. This amazing little gene was expressed in order to enhance this protective ability in other mice. The positive results seem to suggest that researchers are on the right track when it comes to developing a way to protect hair cells within human ears from age and noise. As one researcher was quoted as saying in the Science Daily article, "To our knowledge, our model is the first in which expression of a single gene in postnatal hair cells results in hair cell survival and hearing preservation in mice that otherwise suffer from age-related and noise-induced hearing loss," Dr. Chen said.
Though exciting, the practical application of this research is still a way off, but until then here are some tips you can use to protect and strengthen your hearing!
Avoid: Listening to MP3 or other devices that use headphones for too long or at too high level. MP3 players can damage hearing, especially when used with earbuds, which increase decibel levels.
Monitor: There is no monitor on work equipment that says, “dangerous level of decibels”, and none on gym equipment, work tools, or lawnmowers, but all of these situations require protective hearing devices. Muffling the sound limits exposure and the damaging of the delicate hair cells within the inner ear. Using protective hearing devices helps to avoid high decibel levels.
Water and the Ears: The presence of fluid in the inner ear can cause hearing loss in addition to other symptoms like ringing in the ears (tinnitus), vertigo, nausea and vomiting. Most of the time water will make its way out of the ear naturally or through home remedies, but occasionally water becomes lodged behind the eardrum causing pain and infection. If left untreated, this infection could cause permanent hearing loss. Especially for children, wearing earplugs when swimming can protect hearing by helping to prevent infections and painful bouts of swimmer's ear.
Earplugs:Wearing custom earplugs when mowing, attending concerts, working with machinery or engaging in other noisy activities. Earplugs for water sports and activities can keep water from the ears. An audiologist can provide custom fit protective molds for your ears. Custom fit means more comfort and a greater chance of use, but that's not the only reason to see an audiologist.
Regular Checkups: Seeing your audiologist regularly is as important as regular checkups with your eye doctor. Your sense of hearing is a precious gift that needs to be maintained through proper care and prevention.
If you'd like to learn more, see your hearing health provider. If you need help finding a hearing health provider click HERE to be connected with the largest network of trusted hearing health professionals in the nation!
Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary. "Insight into protective mechanisms for hearing loss." ScienceDaily, 17 Sep. 2013. Web. 17 Dec. 2013.