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Hearing loss is one of the most prevalent health conditions in the US. In fact, nearly 50 million Americans of all ages have a hearing loss. Audiologists recommend treating hearing loss with hearing aids so you can get back to hearing all the sounds around you. If you’ve recently realized you have a hearing loss, you’re probably wondering if hearing loss can be cured.
Understanding How Hearing Works
If you’ve recently noticed changes in your hearing, it’s a good idea to find out exactly how hearing works. The ear is just a small part of the hearing process, and the auditory system includes your outer and inner ear, as well as the auditory nerve and the auditory regions in the brain.
Sound is made up of sound waves. The shape of the outer ear acts like a funnel to direct these sound waves towards your middle ear. The middle ear, also called the eardrum, vibrates with the sound waves, and creates ripples in the fluid-filled inner ear. There are small hair cells in the inner ear, called cilia, that move with the fluid. These hair cells translate the movement to electrical signals. These signals travel up the auditory nerve to the brain, where your brain puts it all together, so you hear all the sounds in your environment.
What Causes Hearing Loss?
You will experience hearing loss if any part of the hearing system is damaged. One of the most common kinds of hearing loss is sensorineural hearing loss. This hearing loss is caused by damage to the hair cells in the inner ear. When these cells are damaged or die, they can’t send signals to the brain, and you’ll experience gaps in your hearing.
Another kind of hearing loss is conductive hearing loss. This is caused by damage to the outer or middle ear. This could be from an illness, infection, or injury. Even a buildup of earwax that blocked the ear canal can cause conductive hearing loss. When sound waves can’t reach the inner ear, the sounds around you will seem muffled, and you’ll experience hearing loss.
Common causes of hearing loss include:
- An ear infection that fills the middle ear or ear canal with fluid
- A buildup of earwax that blocks the ear canal
- A head or ear injury
- A growth of bone or skin in the ear canal or middle ear
- Exposure to excessively loud noise
- The normal aging process, as cells slowly weaken with time
Can Hearing Loss be Cured?
Knowing what causes hearing loss can help us find a cure for hearing loss. Conductive hearing loss can sometimes be cured. For example, if your hearing loss is due to an ear infection, taking antibiotics to fight the infection can cure your hearing loss. If you have hearing loss due to a buildup of earwax in the ear canal, then removing the earwax can help you hear clearly.
However, sensorineural hearing loss can’t be cured. Once the cells in the inner ear are damaged, there is no way to reverse this hearing loss.
Looking for a Cure
Scientists around the world are looking for a cure for hearing loss. They’re hoping to find a way to regenerate damaged cilia to restore hearing. For example, some researchers are hoping that stem cell research will help them find a cure for hearing loss. Stem cells could be used to regrow cells in the inner ear and restore hearing.
Another approach is to use gene therapy to treat genetic hearing loss. Finding out exactly which genes are responsible for hereditary deafness could help scientists cure hearing loss.
Prevention is Key
Hearing loss can’t be cured, so preventing hearing loss is the best thing you can do for your hearing. Pay attention to the sounds in your environment and take steps to protect your hearing from loud noises. If you work in a noisy environment, be sure to use hearing protection. Another way to prevent hearing loss is to monitor the volume on your personal listening device. Turn down the volume on your music, and take breaks to give your ears a rest. Since hearing loss can’t be cured, take steps to protect your hearing and prevent hearing loss.