Approximately one in five people in Lake Charles suffer from hearing loss. The older you are, the more likely you are to have a hearing impairment; age and noise are the two leading causes. Only noise-induced hearing loss is preventable, but researchers have discovered a promising new drug that might be able to prevent age-related hearing loss in some individuals.
What is Presbycusis?
Aging isn’t always a bad thing. For one, it gives you the freedom to yell at kids to get off your lawn. But for every senior discount, there’s a tradeoff: physical activity becomes more difficult, your memory might not be as sharp as before…and in many cases, your hearing diminishes. This is known as presbycusis, or age-related hearing loss.
Cumulative noise exposure over the course of a lifetime negatively affects the hair cells of the cochlea. Those who work in noisy occupations (mining, manufacturing, construction) feel the effects even sooner. One in three individuals in Lake Charles will have some degree of hearing loss by the time they are 65. That number approaches one in two by the age of 75.
There isn’t much you can do to prevent presbycusis, but a team of researchers at the University of South Florida Medical Engineering Department may have found a solution. Department chair Robert Frisina, Ph.D., director of the university’s Global Center for Hearing and Speech Research, is heading up a team devoted to learning whether a group of medications can slow down or prevent age-related hearing loss. They’ve received a patent for their theory that the supplement aldosterone, a naturally-occurring steroid responsible for potassium and sodium regulations in the human body (including the inner ear), can be combined with anti-inflammatory medications such as aspirin or ibuprofen to enhance hearing. “Our novel idea,” Dr. Frisina explains, “embodied in the new patent, involves boosting aldosterone to young adult levels, to make the ear ‘young’ again.”
Dr. Frisina’s group received a five-year, $9 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to continue their research. The study was begun in 2016 and has mainly focused on pre-clinical trials of mice, who were given subcutaneous, time-released aldosterone treatment for four months, which is equal to about 7-8 years of treatment in humans. Aldosterone levels usually drop with age, a key factor in auditory decline. This is exemplified in the mice, whose steroid levels declined by around 50 percent compared to young adult mice. Following treatment, aldosterone levels increased to a level closer to normal. Even more promising, the hormone supplement wasn’t associated with any negative side effects, and the mice did not experience presbycusis. By contrast, the control mice who did not receive hormone treatment developed age-related hearing loss as would be expected.
The next step in the process involves finding a license for the patent. If Dr. Frisina’s team is successful, they will move on to human clinical trials. Should FDA approval be granted, this hormone treatment will be made available to the public. Good news, considering the high percentage of people experiencing a hearing decline as they age.