New research sheds light on noise-induced hearing loss

Photo credit: sl wong

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

The MedicalXpress website reports that researchers at the University of Pittsburgh have discovered the biological mechanism of how noise causes hearing loss, opening up the possibility for prevention of noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL). The research team, led by Thanos Tzounopoulos, showed that noise caused increased zinc levels in cells in the inner ear. Experiments in mice showed that drugs that trap excess zinc can help restore lost hearing. Or, if the drug is administered before an expected loud sound exposure, it can prevent NIHL. 

Pharmaceutical treatment of NIHL, either pre-exposure prophylactic treatment or immediate post-exposure treatment, has been considered one of the “holy grails” of hearing loss research. The other has been restoration of hearing via gene therapy, something recently achieved in children with congenital deafness.

It can take years, even decades, for findings in animal research to be translated into treatments for humans. I don’t know how long it will take for this research to be translated into a drug for humans. It will also require years of testing before the U.S Food and Drug Administration approves it for human use. The drug must meet the FDA’s requirement that it is both safe and effective.

In the meantime, prevention of NIHL, something the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says is the only form of hearing loss that is entirely preventable, is easy and inexpensive. Avoid loud noise exposure, turn down the volume or use hearing protection. If it sounds loud, it’s too loud and your auditory health is at risk.

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