Advances in Treatment for Hearing Loss
Technology has made great strides in improving the lives of people with hearing loss. Recent advances offer new ways to hear better and more clearly. And cutting-edge research is moving toward even more advanced therapies.
The digital technology in hearing aids has paved the way for new features:
- Digital noise reduction. Digital hearing aids use digital sound processing and a computer chip to transmit sound. This allows the hearing aid to recognize the difference between speech and unnecessary noise. The hearing aid adjusts the sound signal so it’s clear and free of distortion.
- Directional hearing. This type of hearing aid helps people understand conversations in noisy places. It uses a special microphone to boost sound coming from one specific direction more than sound coming from other directions. For example, the microphone can amplify sounds in front of you, which is helpful during face-to-face conversations.
- Feedback suppression. One problem with hearing aids is they can squeal or give other feedback noise when you’re using a phone. Feedback suppression technology cuts out these annoying noises. New Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rules for cellphones and cell service providers also aim to improve phone conversations for people with hearing aids. Specifically, some of the regulations call for less interference and static.
- Anchored hearing aids. A bone-anchored hearing aid is surgically attached to the bone behind the ear. It bypasses the damaged middle ear and transmits sound vibrations through the skull to the inner ear. This differs from a cochlear implant, which bypasses the inner ear altogether and transmits sound to the auditory nerve.
- T-coil (telephone switch). The FCC regulations also call for better T-coil connections. A T-coil setting reduces background noise and feedback while a hearing aid user is on the phone.
Talk with your doctor to learn if any of these features may benefit you. An audiologist or hearing aid specialist can recommend the best hearing aid for your lifestyle.
In recent years, researchers have found dozens of genes associated with hearing loss. Identifying these genes is the first step toward using gene therapy to treat hereditary hearing loss. One groundbreaking study found gene therapy can effectively treat hearing loss in deaf guinea pigs.
Stem cell therapy uses stem cells, which can develop into different types of tissues, to replace damaged cells. In the past decade, researchers have studied how stem cell therapy might treat hearing loss. Researchers have identified stem cells inside the inner ear that may someday be used to repopulate damaged cells. The initial results have been promising.
Human experiments with gene therapy and stem cell therapy to treat hearing loss are still several years away. It may be years or decades before the treatments are feasible. But it’s encouraging to consider what the future might hold for people who suffer from hearing problems.
If you’re not satisfied with your current hearing loss treatment, talk with your doctor. He or she can help you find the best option for you.