by Neil Bauman, Ph.D.
I am 68 now, have tinnitus, a hearing loss of 20-40 dB in the lower frequencies and 70-80 dB in the higher frequencies. The Veterans Administration just denied my claim for hearing aid assistance on the basis that it is not military service related even though I was a missile photographer subject to regular missile launches, flew hours on loud, non-insulated radial-engine cargo planes, and rated a Marksman, all without any ear protection. (Ear protection was unheard of in the 1960s). I am planning to appeal on the basis that my hearing loss is cumulative.
When you expose your ears to loud sounds for long periods, you almost certainly cause ear damage. Therefore, you almost certainly suffered some degree of ear damage from all the noise you were exposed to in your military service.
However, hearing loss did not show up back then because of the redundancy of all the nearby hair cells. In other words, the damage had not yet reached a critical mass such that hearing loss would be noticeable—but damage had occurred—hair cells had died.
Because you still heard “normally” when you were discharged, the military is reluctant to admit any fault and thus pay for your hearing aids some 40 years later. They blame your hearing loss on other noise exposure since you left the military, and the fact that you are aging.
II disagree with their position that your military service did not cause any damage (hearing loss). I think you both share some of the blame. Here’s how I look at it.
The cochlea in your inner ear contains perhaps 30,000 hair cells (3 rows of outer hair cells and 1 row of inner hair cells). Each hair cell has tiny projections (technically stereocilia, but colloquially called hairs). You could lose a fair number of these hair cells without any/much detectable hearing loss being observed. However, when a critical number is reached, hearing loss becomes very noticeable.
Almost certainly a number of your hair cells died during (and as a result of) your military service. However, since the numbers of hair cells that died had not reached the critical number that results in obvious hearing loss, they discharged you with a clean bill of health.
Since then, the various loud sounds you’ve been exposed to through the succeeding years and normal presbycusis (hearing loss due to aging) has further reduced the number of hair cells. Because of your previous (military) damage hearing loss is now noticeable sooner and more severely than would otherwise have happened had you had a full complement of working hair cells when you left the military.
Therefore, at this point, both the military and you are each responsible for a percentage of your hearing loss.
Robert then went on to explain,
I have been to a number of audiologists. They all say that hearing aids are the only answer, but I’m a stubborn naturalist and so far have declined! It’s clear that I have lost hair cells in my cochlea. I understand that they do not regenerate. My question for you is: “Are there any foods or supplements that are proven to restore hearing to some extent, or at least prevent further loss?”
I have taken supplements offered by Arches Tinnitus Formula, T-Gone Remedies, L-Glutamine as advertised on TV, and several others, and none of them made any difference whatsoever. Your advice and understanding is greatly appreciated.
Let’s look at this logically. First, you have to understand that dead is dead. If the hair cells have died, they are dead and you can’t make them alive by taking supplements. That just doesn’t happen.
However, it’s a different story if the hair cells are “sick” and not doing their jobs properly. If this is the case, then taking certain supplements will help restore them to “health”. When that happens, they will begin doing their jobs again—and you’ll hear better.
You have taken a number of different supplements and herbal remedies and none of them have made any difference to your hearing. This indicates that your inner-ear hair-cells were not “sick” but dead (missing). As a result, you can’t restore your hearing by “natural” methods. It was worth a try. Now you know for certain that your hearing problem is the result of dead, not “sick” hair cells.
Therefore, your audiologists are correct—in order to hear better, your only remaining options are electronic devices such as hearing aids and cochlear implants.
Personally, I’d give hearing aids a try. You might be surprised at how well you’ll hear with them, especially in quiet situations.