Contributed by Joy Victory, managing editor, Healthy Hearing
Hearing loss affects millions of Americans. Its impact is often downplayed in our society, but living with hearing loss can be frustrating and affect your quality of life in unexpected ways. Everyday activities—listening to the TV, making phone calls, chatting with friends—suddenly become exhausting as you spend more and more time trying to figure out what people are saying.
Maybe that’s why we get so many questions about whether or not there is a cure, or a way to quickly and easily restore or repair hearing levels to normal, especially for sensorineural hearing loss. The short answer to this question is “not really.” For other types of hearing loss, such as conductive hearing loss, some surgery options are available.
Surgeries for hearing loss
Common surgeries performed on the ears include:
A cochlear implant is a surgery for adults and, more commonly, children who have no, or very little, residual hearing. It works by bypassing a severely damaged cochlea to send electrical impulses to the hearing nerves that can be translated by the brain as meaningful sound. If you have significant hearing loss, you may wonder if you can just skip hearing aids and go right to an implant. Before someone (who still has some hearing) can be considered a candidate, they must have tried hearing aids without success.
Bone-anchored hearing systems
Bone-anchored hearing systems, also called BAHAs, are surgically implanted devices. They’re typically used for people who have hearing loss in one ear, or who have outer ear or ear canal malformations. Surgery involves receiving implanting a small metal device into the mastoid bone behind the ear. After the area has healed, the ENT or an audiologist fits the wearer with a device similar to a hearing aid hat fits snugly over the bone implant. This devices converts sound to vibrations, which stimulate sound waves in the inner ear via the implant.
Conductive hearing loss can result from the tiny bones of the middle ear becoming immobile and ineffective for transmitting sound to the inner ear. Otosclerosis is a common reason this can happen, and it results from extra bone material forming around the footplate of the stapes, the innermost bone of the middle ear. A stapedectomy is a procedure in which the stapes is replaced with a prosthesis. This surgery is reserved for specific medical conditions that create conductive hearing loss and is not used for sensorineural hearing loss.
Insertion of middle ear tubes
Considered a minor surgery, this outpatient procedure can be done right in the ENT’s (otolaryngologist) office. Middle ear, or pressure equalization (PE) tubes, are used to alleviate pressure buildup behind the eardrum in cases of middle ear infection or fluid that cannot drain through the Eustachian tubes. This surgery isn’t used to restore hearing per se, but it does help relieve fluid buildup that may be causing temporary hearing loss.
Children are the most common candidates for PE tubes because their not-yet-developed ear anatomy makes ear infections more prevalent than in adults. Middle ear infections and fluid buildup usually cause some temporary conductive hearing loss that will improve post-surgery. However, for the majority of adults whose hearing losses are sensorineural, this surgery is not appropriate and would have no value.
Are there any drugs that fix hearing loss?
Unfortunately no drugs are available to treat hearing loss. But one day, there might be: Researchers from all over the world have been searching for ways to make curing hearing loss as easy as a trip to the pharmacy. One of the latest efforts is an ongoing clinical trial of a new injectable drug, dubbed FX-322, to see if the drug can regrow new hair cells to replace those that have been damaged due to one of the many causes of SNHL. The study by Frequency Therapeutics is currently a “phase 2,” meaning the drug’s safety and proper dosing is still being worked out before a larger trial is conducted.
There are no drugs that can restore hearing loss.
Another emerging area of research is gene therapy for hearing loss, though it could be many years before human testing begins. These and other developments towards restoring hearing in the scientific community are exciting but still preliminary.
Alternative remedies for hearing loss
Alternative medicine is big business in the U.S. These days, essential oils in particular have been touted as “natural” remedies for everything from anxiety and depression to allergies and the flu virus. We have even seen some claims about essential oils that help hearing loss and tinnitus. The research doesn’t bear this out.
We’ve also looked into the claims that acupuncture might help hearing loss. After reviewing the research, we found little to indicate acupuncture will restore lost hearing. It may reduce anxiety, though, which is important for people with tinnitus. One remedy that does have some evidence behind it? CBD oil. While the studies were small and preliminary, researchers found that CBD oil may help with tinnitus relief.
What can restore hearing?
Regaining the hearing loss experienced by most adults due to natural aging, noise exposure, ototoxic medications and other causes isn’t as straightforward as correcting some other medical conditions, but it’s far from difficult. Hearing better can be as simple as visiting a hearing care professional and being professionally fit with the right type of hearing aid.
If you suspect you have hearing loss and need help, find a clinic in our large directory and make the call.