Healthy Ears: How to Keep Hearing Through The Years

Common Signs & Symptoms of Ear Problems

Healthy Ears Throughout the Years

Many women worry about their eyesight deteriorating as they age, but your hearing can also be affected the older you get. For instance, tinnitus, or ringing in the ears, affects about 20 percent of the general population.

(If you are having hearing problems it could be due to ear wax build up which can be easily eliminated.)

Causes of ear problems have been associated with:

► Acoustic neuroma—a rare benign tumor in the inner ear, which has become more common with the upsurge in cell phone usage;

► Exposure to loud noise;

► High blood pressure, diabetes, atherosclerosis, or heart disease; and

► Certain medications, including antibiotics, chemotherapy, diuretics, and aspirin.

But for as many as 80 percent of sufferers, the cause of tinnitus is the unnatural silence caused by underlying hearing loss, especially age-related hearing loss, a progressive hearing problem that affects a third of the aging population.

That's why relief from tinnitus in any woman past middle age is likely to require effective treatment of an underlying hearing problem. Thanks to recent breakthroughs, that no longer means a surgical cochlear implant.

How to relieve ear problem symptoms

Here's what you can do to relieve tinnitus and protect your hearing:

1. Protect what you have.

Age-related hearing loss usually progresses slowly. Protective measures can stop the progression and provide the opportunity for healing:

♦ Stop smoking, which is associated with increased prevalence and earlier onset of age-related hearing loss.

♦ Wear ear protection when you're around excessive noise. Noise mostly damages high-frequency (high pitch) sound perception.

♦ Take care of your heart health. Cardiovascular disease causes age-related hearing loss, thanks to sluggish circulation in the inner ear, which results in mostly low-frequency hearing loss. In fact, low-frequency hearing loss is a new warning sign for cardiovascular disease, peripheral artery disease, coronary artery disease, strokes, and heart attack (Laryngoscope). If you have been diagnosed with hearing loss, you should request a cardiovascular health evaluation.

♦ Lay off the hormone replacement therapy (HRT). Studies show that progestin (the synthetic progesterone that's included in conventional HRT regimens) negatively affects both the ear and the brain's auditory center (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences; Hearing Research).

♦ Check your fillings. Hearing loss is also associated with amalgam dental fillings. In a study of nonsmoking women ages 40 to 45, researchers found that for each amalgam filling, there was an additional 2.4 decibel decline in high-frequency hearing (Journal of Audiology).

2. Regain what you've lost. The cochlea, the snail-shaped, fluid-filled bony structure in the inner ear, is lined with about 50,000 hair-like nerve endings. We hear when sound leaves make ripples in the fluid and vibrate those hairs, which then transmit their neural impulse to the auditory center in the brain.

While virtually every other tissue in the body has at least some ability to regenerate itself via stem cells, the old belief system is that the cochlear "hairs" you were born with are all you'll ever have, and they are so highly differentiated that, once damaged or lost, they can never be replaced. Therefore, hearing loss is permanent. However, recent studies seem to disagree. 

♦Take supplemental antioxidants. Free radical-scavenging antioxidants often work through a variety of chemical pathways, so combining selected antioxidants can have synergistic effects.

This appears to be true of the powerful antioxidants N-acetylcysteine (NAC) and acetyl-L-carnitine, which together give profound protection to cochlear hair cells (Hearing Research).

And, in one study, eight weeks after 46 elderly patients with age-related hearing loss took a combination treatment including daily alpha-lipoic acid (ALA) and vitamin C, hearing levels at all frequencies were significantly improved ( Acta Otolaryngologica).

To protect your ears, I recommend 500 mg of NAC, 300 mg of acetyl-L-carnitine, 60 mg of ALA, and 600 mg of mineral-buffered vitamin C daily.

♦ Take your vitamins. In one study, women with diagnosed hearing loss had more than 30 percent less vitamin B12 and folic acid in their blood than women with normal hearing (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition). Make sure your daily multi-nutrient regimen includes 100 mg of the B-complex vitamins, including 500-1,000 mcg of B12 and 800 mcg of folic acid.

♦ Consider light therapy. Evidence shows that low-level, or red light, laser therapy safely rejuvenates faltering neural tissue by stimulating mitochondrial energy production. (This type of laser, with a wavelength of 635 nm, is used to heal.)

German physician Uwe Witt, M.D., first used this therapy to treat hearing loss in the early 1980s. Increasing mitochondrial energy production allows damaged cochlear hair cells to repair and regenerate themselves.

Clinical trials sponsored by the National Institutes of Health are currently underway. Low-level laser therapy is also used to increase inner ear microcirculation and reduce vertigo in patients suffering from the inner ear disorder known as Meniere's disease ( Photomedicine and Laser Surgery).

♦ New Research for Your Health:

Stem cell research to aid hearing issues

Stem cell research has already yielded regeneration of cochlear hair cells in guinea pigs. Scientists report that it is relatively easy to transplant stem cells into the inner ear because it is a small, contained space that can be seeded without fear that the stem cells will stimulate cell growth in inappropriate places (Journal of Neuroscience; Neuroreport). If you feel like your hearing isn't what it used to be, I encourage you to try these therapies!

May your weeks ahead be full of sunshine and love!

Dr Susan

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