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Scientists have made a key breakthrough in understanding how loud noises can contribute to hearing loss, as well as revealing a potentially simple new method of treating the problem.
A team from the University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine have used miniature optics to scan the inside of the cochlea when it is exposed to loud noise, finding that the trauma causes sensory hair cells to die, while the inner ear fills with excess fluid, leading to the death of neurons.
The sensory hair cell death was shown to occur immediately and proved irreversible, but the neuron damage had a delayed onset, suggesting a potential window of opportunity for treatment.
As such, the team utilised salt and sugar-based solutions, injected into the middle ear following noise exposure, to reverse the effects of the high potassium concentrations found in the excess fluid in the inner ear. This helped to prevent 45 to 64 per cent of neuron loss, suggesting that this may offer a viable means of preserving hearing function in those exposed to loud noises.
Further research is now needed to determine the exact sequence of steps between fluid buildup in the inner ear and neuron death, to be followed by clinical trials of the potential treatment. Nevertheless, the researchers are already envisaging a number of applications for their new solution in the field of audiology.
Dr John Oghalai, chair and professor of the University of Southern California's department of otolaryngology - head and neck surgery, said: "I can envision soldiers carrying a small bottle of this solution with them and using it to prevent hearing damage after exposure to blast pressure from a roadside bomb.
"It might also have potential as a treatment for other diseases of the inner ear that are associated with fluid buildup, such as Meniere's disease."
Written by James Puckle
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