Noise Exposure, Aging Ears and Hearing Loss — Jan. 19 at Newton Library

Sharon G. Kujawa, Ph.D. will speak on January 19 at 7:30PM at the Newton Library on issues related to noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL), age-related hearing loss and their long-term ramifications.  NIHL is a major health problem that significantly impacts communication and quality of life and, in theory, is largely preventable.  In practice, exposure to high-level sound is one of the most common causes of permanent hearing loss and inner ear damage. In spite of numerous attempts to regulate exposure and educate the public, there are reports that NIHL is increasing in younger segments of the population.

Sharon G. Kujawa, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor of Otology and Laryngology at Harvard Medical School and Director of the Department of Audiology at Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary. She also serves on the faculty of the Harvard-MIT Program in Speech and Hearing Biosciences and Technology. Her research focuses on understanding how inner ear function is compromised by noise exposure, how noise-induced injury alters the aging of ears, and how these injury processes can be manipulated pharmacologically to reveal underlying mechanisms for treatment or prevention.

The co-existence of noise-induced and age-related hearing losses in the same person’s ears will impact an increasingly larger proportion of the population over time. Exposure to loud sound can cause temporary or permanent hearing loss and injures delicate structures of the inner ear. When sensitivity recovers after noise, it has been assumed that this indicates reversal of damage with no persistent or delayed consequences for auditory function. In contrast, new research has shown that loud sound exposures, even those that result in completely reversible sensitivity losses, can cause ongoing degeneration of the cochlear nerve. This neurodegeneration alters how ears age after noise, and likely contributes to speech-in-noise difficulties and other perceptual anomalies commonly associated with inner ear damage. The clear message from these studies is that noise is much more dangerous than has been assumed.