hear me

If you’ve been to a big concert, listened to music with earbuds, or simply gotten older, then chances are your hearing isn’t what it used to be. Thanks to loud environments and a pesky thing called presbycusis, most people will start to lose their attenuation to high frequencies–at the very least–by the time they are young adults. And by the time you’re 65? Well then you have about a 1 in 3 chance of having substantial hearing loss. Now for most people, this isn’t a huge problem and is a natural part of growing older, though no one can shake the bad feeling of having your ears ring for days after a particularly noisy concert or having to repeat that question to grandpa seven times in a row. But for folks who take their hearing more seriously (music buffs, anyone?), this can be a troubling issue. Not to mention the 2-3 children out of every 1000 who are born with little or no hearing ability.

Hearing can be a tricky issue. We’ve known for quite sometime that mammals have a tough (read: impossible) time regrowing the hair cells in the cochlea that help translate the physical phenomena of sound into electrical waves processed by our brain as the experience of hearing. Once a hair cell is damaged it’s kaput for good. That high pitched ringing you hear after a loud event? That’s the sound of your damaged hair cells screaming out in pain as they die…yes, quite sad. Science has given us a number of amazing options for the hearing impaired, including full cochlear implants that have come a long way in recent years. But what about for the less-than-profoundly deaf? Or a more elegant solution than a wire tapped into your brain?

Well we could be in luck in the near future. Scientists last year discovered a method of restoring partial hearing in mice who had experience severe hearing damage by figuring out a way to stimulate the growth of hair cells in the cochlea. The senior author of the paper, Dr. Albert Edge of the Harvard Medical School, explains:

“The missing hair cells had been replaced by new hair cells after the drug treatment, and analysis of their location allowed us to correlate the improvement in hearing to the areas where the hair cells were replaced.”

This is good news for anyone with tinnitus, as it means we may have a readily available cure for hearing loss within the next few decades. Imagine seeing your favorite way-too-loud band and the next day simply popping over to Walgreens to pick up the little pill that reverses the damage to your precious ears. That’s a world I want to live in.

In the meantime though, please protect your ears: wear earplugs!


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