Photo credit: Oregon State University licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Scientists at the National Institutes of Health have identified a unique set of proteins that restore hearing. Unfortunately, the proteins were discovered only in zebrafish, not in humans, so whether the research will eventually lead to a cure for noise-induced hearing loss in humans is something that is a long way off.

Humans are born with 16-20,000 hair cells in the cochlea, the part of the inner ear buried deep within the skull’s temporal bone.

When sound waves are transmitted through the ear to the hair cells, they are deformed. The deformation is transformed into electrical impulses transmitted through the auditory nervous system to the brain, where they are in turn perceived as sound.

Excessive noise exposure damages and eventually kills hair cells, leading to noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL). NIHL is very common in adults. Research done by the CDC found that about 25% of American adults age 20-69 had NIHL, more than half without any significant occupational noise exposure. This isn’t surprising. As I wrote last year, noise exposure in everyday life, from appliances, personal listening devices, and riding in the subway or on a bus, is sufficient to cause hearing loss.

CDC also states that NIHL is the only form of hearing loss that is entirely preventable.

As we like to say, “if it sounds loud, it’s too loud, and your auditory health is at risk.”

Our advice: Avoid loud noise, use hearing protection if it sounds loud, or leave the noisy environment