Antioxidants, dietary supplements, and high-tech brain imaging are among some of the new strategies being used to help detect, treat, and prevent noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) and tinnitus among American troops, according to researchers at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit.

The research team, led by Michael Seidman, MD, is the first to identify how acoustic trauma from machinery and explosive devices damages the inner ear cells and breaks down cell growth, much like age-related hearing loss.

"Improvised explosive devices, aircraft, and other weaponry being used by the military are frankly deafening our troops," says Seidman, director of the Division of Otologic/Neurotologic Surgery in the Department of Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery at Henry Ford Hospital.

"Noise-induced hearing loss doesn’t just impact a person’s ability to hear; it can cause balance issues, make it difficult to sleep and communicate, and even raise the risk for heart disease by increasing a person’s blood pressure, lipids, and blood sugar."

As part of a presentation to be given at the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery’s annual meeting in Washington, DC, Seidman will cite research from Wayne State University’s Jinsheng Zhang, PhD, to explain how noise-induced hearing loss and tinnitus-related traumatic brain injury occur.

Zhang has developed a model of blast-induced tinnitus and hearing loss using a shock tube that generates a 194 decibel shock wave similar to many of the explosive devices being deployed against troops.

Seidman will also discuss the use of nutraceuticals, such as acetyl-l-carnitine, alpha lipoic acid, and resveratrol, a substance found in red wine and red grapes, to mitigate hearing-related issues.

Based on initial results of the team’s research, Seidman says a nutraceutical with a resveratrol-based component may hold the potential to not only prevent, but reverse hearing loss in certain circumstances for soldiers. This research is based on animal models, but will soon be tested with humans to see if a pill could be developed to prevent acoustic trauma in troops.

In addition, Seidman will highlight new research on tinnitus. A study co-authored by Susan Bowyer, PhD, senior bioscientific researcher at Henry Ford Hospital, found that an imaging technique called magnetoencephalography (MEG) can determine the site of perception of tinnitus in the brain, which could in turn allow physicians to target the area with electrical or chemical therapies to lessen symptoms.

Although there is no cure for tinnitus, several interventions are available, including dietary modification, the use of specific herbs and supplements, sound therapies, centrally acting medications, and electrical stimulation of the cochlea and brain using implantable electrodes and an implantable pulse generator.

To date, Seidman reports that he has treated six patients with direct electrical stimulation to the brain, reducing the tinnitus in four of those patients.

Despite these advances, Seidman notes that more research and funding are needed in order to generate critical data to facilitate an understanding of the damage caused by acoustic trauma and develop strategies to mitigate that damage.

SOURCE: Henry Ford Hospital