Hearing Blog

Contemporary Research on Hearing Loss

May 15, 2017

Recent research from the Harvard Medical School reported that nerve fibers located inside the inner ear are more sensitive and prone to being damaged due to loud noises than the hair follicles of the ear. This provides a different picture than the previously-held notion that hearing loss was caused due to the loss of hair cells within the ear; this new finding opens up new opportunities to facilitate public health procedures and treatment methods.

We hear sounds due to the transmission of sound impulses through the sensitive bones of the ear that vibrate and transmit electrical impulses within the cochlear nerve fibers. These electrical impulses are sent to the brain where it is interpreted as sound. Previous research did not focus on the nerve loss within the cochlea, which can be present even without having any effect on the ability to detect tones in a silent environment. This ability to detect tones in a silent environment is generally used as a baseline aspect of hearing examinations; audiologists may fail to identify nerve damage within the inner ear since the threshold audiogram test does not detect this aspect.

The guidelines for recent federal noise exposure convey that loud noises at a transient threshold do not pose a threat for hearing loss. Unfortunately, recent research suggests that even transient levels of loud noise can lead to nerve damage, which can result in hearing loss later in life. This knowledge is useful in helping people take steps to protect their ears and prevent hearing loss in the future.

Current research indicates that neural cells die at a slow rate. This means that it may be possible for some scientists to regenerate and reactivate these nerve terminals through the use of chemical injections. This re-growth of nerve cells can help reconnect the synaptic paths that are required for hearing purposes. Further research will be able to shed light on these ground-breaking theories, although these new findings provide sufficient reason to hope that hearing loss may have several more therapeutic options in the future.