Hearing loss is a growing problem throughout the world. In the United States alone, almost 50 million people currently suffer from some degree of hearing impairment, and that number is only going to increase in the years to come. Given the widespread nature of this problem, the question of whether hearing ability can be regained once it has been lost is becoming more important. Although the prevailing wisdom for years has been that all hearing loss is permanent, researchers are discovering that, at least in some cases, hearing loss can be reversed.
Conductive Hearing Loss
Of the different varieties of hearing loss, conductive hearing loss is often the easiest to correct. Conductive hearing loss occurs when sound waves are unable to successfully travel through the ear. For example, a foreign object, a buildup of fluid or impacted earwax could all lead to conductive hearing loss. Since these hindrances are typically physical and non-destructive, correcting them often results in the patient regaining their hearing. In some instances, however, damage to the inner structure of the ear canal or the eardrum itself can lead to non-reversible hearing loss.
Sensorineural Hearing Loss
Unlike conductive hearing loss, sensorineural hearing loss results from damage, either to the inner ear or to the nerves that transmit sounds to the brain. This damage can occur in a number of different ways, including exposure to excessively loud noises, disease, physical injury or simply as the result of advanced age. Not only is this variety of hearing loss by far the most common, accounting for roughly 90% of all hearing loss, but it is also not reversible. As such, sufferers are forced to resort to hearing aids or other assistive devices in order to retain some level of hearing ability.
A Potential Cure
Even though the damage that causes sensorineural hearing loss is permanent, researchers are working on ways to reverse it. Through the use of stem cells, scientists are developing gene therapies that are designed to stimulate the growth of new sensory hair follicles within the inner ear. Although this stem cell therapy is still in the early testing phase and won’t cure every patient with sensorineural hearing loss, it could help millions of people regain their hearing in the future.
Despite these promising advances, there is no surefire way to reverse sensorineural hearing loss. Therefore, prevention is the best solution. Hearing loss specialists recommend getting regular hearing exams, turning down the volume on MP3 players and protecting your ears in loud environments, such as concerts. By taking these preventative measures, you’ll be able to hold on to your natural hearing ability for as long as possible.
If you or someone you know would like more information about hearing loss and how to treat it, please feel free to schedule a consultation or contact one of our representatives today!