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Is there a hearing loss cure?

From gene therapy to stem cells, many wonder if there is a cure on the horizon.

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Jessica Hinson

Written by

Danielle Morgan

Updated:

May 10, 2024

Blue DNA strands on a black background. Blue DNA strands on a black background.

The 3 key takeaways

  • Currently, there are no cures for hearing loss — Hearing loss is treatable through technology like hearing aids and cochlear implants, but these do not restore normal hearing.
  • The process to develop a cure for hearing loss is complex— Developing new treatment methods requires years of research and regulated clinical trials.
  • Researchers are working in a variety of therapeutic areas to find a cure for hearing loss — Biotech companies and academic research institutions are all looking at different ways to improve hearing outcomes.

We live in an exciting time of science and medical discovery. It seems that every week, there is talk of a promising new treatment with potential to change lives. Researchers have been trying to develop ways to treat or cure hearing loss for years, and due to advances in technology, they are getting closer.

Although hearing aids and cochlear implants are excellent treatment options for people with hearing loss, they are not a cure and require expensive technology that needs to be replaced regularly. A hearing loss cure could lead to improved quality of life for the over 1 billion people around the world that have hearing loss.

So, is there a hearing loss cure?

Unfortunately, not yet. There are, however, numerous studies being conducted worldwide looking for potential new therapy solutions, and some of these ideas are currently in clinical trials.

Clinical trials Trusted SourceNational Institutes of HealthClinical trialsGo to source are the phase of developing a new medical or surgical treatment where researchers study how the treatment affects people. Clinical trials must follow strict regulations to make sure trial participants are safe, that the treatment being investigated is proven effective, and that data is being properly reported.

 

The causes of hearing loss

Some people are born with hearing loss (congenital), while others develop hearing loss over time (acquired). Hearing loss can be caused by diseases and health conditions and may be permanent, while other causes, such a blockage of ear wax, can be temporary.

Sensorineural hearing loss

This type of hearing loss is caused by damage to the inner ear or hearing nerve. Sensorineural hearing loss is most often permanent, and is therefore the focus of much of the research aimed at finding a hearing loss cure. Sensorineural hearing loss can be caused by ototoxic medications, loud noise exposure, aging, and a number of other health conditions.

Conductive hearing loss

When sound is not able to pass easily from the outer and middle ear to the inner ear, this can create a conductive hearing loss. Conductive hearing loss usually requires medical attention to treat it.

Conductive hearing losses are often temporary, but chronic conditions can make this type of hearing loss permanent. Some causes of conductive hearing loss include: ear infections, middle ear fluid, or a perforation of the ear drum. Conductive hearing loss implies that the inner ear, or cochlea, is functioning normally.

Mixed hearing loss

Mixed hearing loss is a combination of both sensorineural and conductive hearing loss. This means that there is some degree of hearing loss caused by damage to the inner ear, while there is also a problem with sound transmission in the outer and middle ear. Mixed hearing loss can be caused by all of the same reasons as sensorineural and conductive hearing loss.

Current treatment options for hearing loss

There are treatment options available for all kinds of hearing loss. What treatment is recommended for you depends on how severe your hearing loss is, the type of loss you have, and what your individual hearing needs are.

We will explore some of the most common treatment options below, but for a more in-depth guide, be sure to read through our article here.

Hearing aids

Hearing aids work by amplifying the frequencies of sound where you have a hearing loss. With advancements in technology, hearing aids have come a long way and now come in smaller, sleeker designs, and many have Bluetooth capabilities to make it easier to listen to music and talk on the phone.

There is still very much a stigma around wearing hearing aids, but it is getting better, and people are taking control of their hearing health sooner than before.

There are different styles of hearing aids, all with their own pros and cons. Traditional prescription hearing aids need to be fit by an audiologist or another hearing health provider, while there are also over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids available for adults with mild to moderate levels of hearing loss.

It is always in your best interest to see an audiologist for a hearing test before making any big purchases. If you want to do some research before you visit the audiologist, check out some of our reviews of different hearing aid brands.

Cochlear implants

For people who do not benefit from traditional hearing aids due to a severe loss and poor ability to understand speech, cochlear implants are a great option to treat sensorineural hearing loss. Cochlear implants are available for both children and adults. They transmit electrical information about sound from an external processor worn on the head to an internal implant in the inner ear. This implant then sends the information to the hearing nerve, bypassing all of the severely damaged hair cells in the inner ear.

Bone-anchored hearing systems

These specialized devices can be used for all types of hearing loss, but candidacy for each device is determined by its manufacturer. Bone-anchored hearing systems, or implants, can be placed surgically or worn with adhesive or a head band. The system works by transferring sound waves directly to the functional inner ear through bones in the skull.

Assistive listening devices

There are a number of different assistive devices that can help people with hearing loss. Many are used in conjunction with hearing aids or other technology that improves access to sound, but can also be used alone. Some examples of assistive devices are: Amplified telephones, captioned telephones, amplified TV systems, and alerting devices.

Promising advances in hearing loss research

Although developing new treatment options is a slow process, hearing loss research alone has seen numerous advances in just the last few years.

Researchers have been working hard to understand the complexities of hearing loss to find potential solutions. Although a lot of research is in its early stages, some research has advanced to clinical trials.

Stem cell therapy

Stem cell therapy is an area of research and medicine that hopes to find ways to regenerate damaged tissues and organs. Stem cells are cells in the body from which specialized cells can be created from, for instance, brain cells or blood cells.

Scientists are looking at ways to deliver specialized stem cells to the body to assist in restoring damage. Bone marrow transplant is one type of stem cell therapy.

Stem cell therapy for hearing loss is still in its research stages. There are currently no active clinical trials for stem cell therapy treatment of hearing loss. One biotech company, Frequency Therapeutics, had a clinical trial for a drug that delivered a type of stem cells to the inner ear to treat sensorineural hearing loss.

Unfortunately, the trial failed to show the treatment was effective, so it was shut down. UK-based company Rinri Therapeutics hopes to have its stem cell therapy in clinical trials in 2024. The goal of their therapy is to use stem cells to improve the outcomes of cochlear implantation.

If you would like to follow advancements in stem cell therapy, Harvard Stem Cell Institute has a division dedicated toward their stem cell therapy research for hearing loss.

Gene therapy

Where stem cell therapy introduces specialized cells to the body to restore damage, gene therapy tries to solve the problem by altering your own genetic information, usually delivered through a drug.

At Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, scientists are in the early stages of developing a drug that can stimulate regeneration of hair cells in the inner ear. Inner ear hair cells cannot be restored in mammals, but some species such as birds, reptiles, and fish can do this. Researchers are looking at how they can reprogram parts of the inner ear to be able to create new cells.

Researchers at the University of Rochester have also been making gene therapy discoveries. Although they are also not in any clinical trials, they have isolated a gene and learned more about how it can potentially be used to generate new inner ear cells.

Drug therapy

There are no available drug therapies to cure hearing loss at this time; however, this is a growing area of research. Sound Pharmaceuticals, a company based in Seattle, Washington, is enrolling patients into phase three of a clinical trial for an anti-inflammatory medication that might improve hearing loss and tinnitus in patients with Meniere’s disease.

In late 2022, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Pedmark, an injectable medication for children who are undergoing cisplatin therapy, a type of chemotherapy.

Although this medication does not restore hearing, it does decrease the risk of developing hearing loss, which is a common side-effect of cisplatin. Researchers at Indiana University School of Medicine are studying drugs to prevent hearing loss caused by certain antibiotics.

Nanotechnology

Nanotechnology is a branch of science that develops very small devices by manipulating matter. Nanotechnology is being studied for its ability to potentially carry medications that can restore hearing into the inner ear. Nanotechnology would allow for less-invasive treatment of hearing loss. Although nanotechnology sounds promising, this technology has not made it to any clinical trials yet.

The future of hearing devices

Research is not just looking at a cure for hearing loss, but is also looking at ways to improve on current hearing device technology.

Brain-computer interface (BCI) technology

Brain-computer interface (BCI) allows the brain to control devices by way of a computer connection. Although it sounds like something out of a sci-fi movie, BCI technology is being used by a number of different fields, particularly in how it can help people with disabilities.

Some researchers are looking at how they can modify this technology to make hearing aids and cochlear implants smarter, leading to better hearing in complex environments like noise.

Artificial intelligence (AI)

Artificial intelligence is already available in many hearing aids, and researchers continue to explore the possibilities in this field. AI technology can help the hearing aids learn the user’s preferences, better identify sounds, and help the user function better overall with their hearing aids.

So, what’s slowing things down?

As exciting as these new advances are, it will take some time before a hearing loss cure will be available.

The ear is a complex organ and there is still a lot we don’t know about it. Human ears are also at a disadvantage since they cannot regenerate cells when they become damaged, unlike some birds or reptiles. That means scientists have to fully understand the mechanisms in those species and learn how to apply it to mammals and eventually humans.

When new drugs and medical devices are being developed, there are regulations that must be followed to ensure that not only are the treatments safe, but that they are effective. New treatments must pass through several stages of clinical trials before they can be approved. The FDA is the regulatory body that oversees clinical trials in the United States; other countries have their own, similar systems.

Although there is no hearing loss cure just yet, there are dedicated researchers and clinicians all over the world working to make this a reality.

Frequently asked Questions

Could going to a stem cell clinic improve my hearing?

The FDA strongly warns against getting stem cell therapy from private clinics, as they are not regulated. Stem cell therapy for hearing loss has not been fully developed and proven yet. Unregulated stem cell therapies also have the potential to be harmful to your health.

How can I become part of a clinical trial to restore my hearing?

Clinicaltrials.gov is a website where you can search and read about all past and current clinical trials for a variety of new treatments, and even check if they are enrolling subjects. You can also check with your audiologist, ear, nose, and throat provider, or even a research hospital nearby to see if they know of any studies looking for participants.

I have hearing loss and need hearing aids. Should I wait for one of these new treatments to become available?

The cure for hearing loss is still in its early stages. Even if a new treatment is developed and gets approved, it will still likely be a while before a treatment is readily available to the general public. New treatments can often be expensive and might not be covered by insurance. Don’t hold off on getting help for your hearing. The sooner you address your hearing loss, the better your outcomes will likely be.

Will a cochlear implant restore my hearing?

A cochlear implant cannot restore hearing, but provides the user with better access to speech sounds in order to improve communication.

Which hearing aids have AI?

There are several manufacturers that offer AI in their hearing aids including Starkey, Oticon, and even some OTC devices. Take a look at our brand reviews for more information!