Hola! I’m writing from a spot of paradise on Costa Rica’s Pacific coast. I have a lot of free time on my hands, but even when I’m relaxing, my thoughts never stray too far from hearing loss issues. In the 95° heat, I started daydreaming about hearing loss research – doesn’t everybody when they come to tropics?
There is a question that I first asked as a little girl and have posed to a succession of ENT physicians ever since. I have always got the same answer, “There won’t be a cure for your type of hearing loss in your lifetime”. For most of my life, I believed what I was told: You have hearing loss, and you have it for life – and hey, here’s a hearing aid.
Not overly inspirational, although the doctors were probably right – there may not be a cure just around the corner. In recent years, though, I’ve come to realize that I was asking the wrong question of those doctors. But I can be forgiven for asking about a cure because I’ve grown up in a time of unparalleled medical advancements, with constant breakthroughs in the treatment of many diseases and conditions. Polio and smallpox were (almost) totally eliminated. We’re making progress in treating the devastation of cancer.
We don’t seem to be moving as fast in preventing the common cold or curing hearing loss.
The question I should have asked my doctor is this – what advancements can I expect to see in my lifetime and what exactly do you mean by ‘cure’? If the physicians meant reversal of sensorineural hearing loss through re-growth of the inner ear hair cells and other cochlear components, they were probably right – perhaps a cure is still a few decades away. But I’m only 58 and I plan to live for quite some time yet. I can wait for that complete ‘cure’.
But in the meantime, look at the jaw-dropping progress we’ve made in medical, clinical and engineering research – advancements that have made our lives with hearing loss so much easier, so much more accessible.
How about the miracle of the cochlear implant? At a conference concert, I was sitting next to my friend Myrtle, a recent CI recipient, when she heard music for the first time in years. The hair rose on my neck watching her eyes widen with amazement at the sounds. Hearing aid advancements have opened up a world of communication – no, they’re not perfect yet, especially their price. But other assistive technology, captioning, and accessibility reforms are all contributing to increased understanding and awareness of hearing loss issues.
Hearing research is taking place at institutions around the world and new advancements are being announced almost daily. Many – ok, most – of the study titles are outside of my realm of comprehension, for example these gems from our wonderful HearingHealthMatters research section, The Journal@HHTM: An Investigation of the Relationship of ABR Wave V to Na-Pa of the MLR or Temporal-based Non-linear Hearing Aid Prescription Using a Genetic Algorithm. While I don’t understand either the abstracts or the results, I can tell that it’s interesting stuff – new knowledge building blocks that help create, layer by layer, a better understanding of hearing and hearing loss. And with each new layer, we get a few steps closer to the prevention and treatment of life-changing hearing loss.
But, for the average consumer, these research topics are high-falutin’ stuff – we tend to be more interested in the end results that can help us in our daily lives. But after spending a few days in the heat of the tropics, there are a few research questions I would like somebody to look into. You just never know – maybe at least one of these ideas might spur important research that will help people with hearing loss who visit or live in warm climates.
1. Is there a relationship between sun over-exposure and hearing? When skin temperature is raised to the crisping point, does this radiate inwards to affect the sense of hearing? Would it help to create a special sunscreen for HoHs, with an SPF of 250?
2. Does a sunburned pinna conduct sound waves adequately? Or do changes on the surface of the outer ear alter the sound wave which is therefore interpreted differently by the brain? If so, should all hard of hearing people be reminded to wear a sunhat?
3. For people with hearing loss who have difficulty speechreading people with accents, could we use glasses, similar to the 3D glasses, that would translate lip movements into a speechread-able format? (In the meantime, I rely on the Hearing Husband to help me when I don’t understand the Costa Rican accent.)
4. Recent research says that stressed women are more prone to hyperacusis (hearing sounds louder than they are). Additionally, although I haven’t seen actual studies on why this happens, many hard of hearing people report that when they are nervous, their hearing drops through the floor. So here’s the million-dollar question: what is the effect of extended relaxation on how women hear (such as spending a week in a spot of paradise on a tropical coast)? Do we gain back a decibel or two? Does speech discrimination improve? Or, do we just not care –we’ll have another mojito and think about that tomorrow?
If anyone cares to explore these questions further and turn them into full-blown research, you know where to find me. In the meantime – let’s keep asking those research questions and let’s financially support hearing research that can lead us to the holy grail of either a cure for hearing loss or the next best thing – communication that is fluid and accessible.