Promising Hearing Loss Research

The United States Army is conducting research in to a drug that can possibly prevent or even restore hearing loss.  Hearing loss and tinnitus are the most common injury facing our service personnel.  Subjected to loud noises from munitions and heavy equipment, service men and women frequently develop Noise Induced Hearing Loss. Like most hearing loss, this is permanent.

Each ear contains 20,000 microscopic hair-like cells that convert sound vibrations in to signals for the brain to interpret.  Aging, certain diseases and exposure to loud noises can damage these hair-like cells. Once damaged, they cannot be restored or replaced.

A research team is field-testing a medication that when taken before exposure to loud noises can prevent damage to the inner ear. The study participants from Fort Jackson in South Carolina train daily at the rifle range. When fired, their M-16 rifle gives off a sound at 150 decibels, which is louder than a jet taking off at 33 yards away or a jackhammer. Regular exposure to noises of 85 decibels or more can cause permanent hearing damage. During their 11-day training, soldiers might fire more than 500 rounds putting their hearing at high risk.

Researchers believe excessive noise causes the body to produce highly reactive molecules that can harm the hair cells of the inner ear. The theory is this antioxidant can neutralize some of these damaging molecules and boost the body’s natural defenses against them thus preventing hearing loss.

If approved, this would be the first drug available to prevent hearing loss.

Read more about the research in this article from the Wall Street Journal.