New research investigates how your hearing can be damaged
It is common in our specialist industry of industrial disease to often deal with clients who now suffer hearing loss as a result of their work in noisy environments. It is also common for the clients to explain symptoms such as ringing, buzzing and whooshing sounds in their ears. This is often associated with tinnitus and general hearing loss. Other symptoms of hearing loss include difficulties understanding speech which affects 50% of people over the age of 65. But how exactly has their hearing been damaged?
A new research development undertaken by Dr Martine Hamann at the University of Leicester and funded by Action on Hearing Loss has investigated the cellular level of the ear and how hearing loss is started by exposure to loud noise. The outcome of the report suggests that “physical changes in myelin itself- the coating of the auditory nerve carrying sound signals to the brain- affect our ability to hear.”
Myelin is a coat that surrounds the auditory nerve, when exposed to loud noise this coat becomes thinner. When noise signals are transmitted in the ear they jump from one myelin area to another, due to the exposure of sound these “areas” become elongated causing problems with signal transmission.
An example is noted in the report of how hearing loss affects speech recognition. “Understanding speech relies on fast transmission of auditory signals. Therefore it is important to understand how the speed of the signal transmission gets decreased during hearing loss. Understanding underlying phenomena means that it could be possible to find medicines to improve auditory perception, specifically in noisy backgrounds”.
The end outcome of the research is to be able to understand the problems with auditory perception regarding hearing loss. Being able to identify the key issue allows the development of medicines that would promote the repair of myelin repair after loud noise exposure or age related hearing loss. The research also aims to investigate appropriate prevention techniques by investigating how the damage is caused.
Dr Ralph Holme, Head of Biomedical Research at Action on Hearing Loss notes the importance of research into hearing loss “There is an urgent need for effective treatments to prevent hearing loss- a condition that affects 10 million people in the UK”.
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