There are approximately 4,000 Americans who suffer from sudden hearing loss every year. In most cases, there is no known cause for this baffling condition. About two-thirds of people recover within a few weeks and have no need for treatment. However, for about one-third of individuals, hearing loss worsens and vertigo sets in. Until recently, there appeared to be no way of reversing the damage.
First of all, how do your ears “hear?” When you hear something, your ear converts sound waves into electrical signals and causes nerve impulses to be sent to the brain, where they are interpreted as sound. Your ear is made up of three parts: the outer, middle and inner ear. Sound waves first enter through the outer ear and then reach the middle ear. This is when the sound waves cause the eardrum to vibrate. These vibrations are, in turn, transmitted through three tiny bones, called “ossicles,” in the middle ear. You can call these three bones by their official names of”malleus,” “incus” and “stapes,” or you can use their more colorful, colloquial names, hammer, anvil and stirrup.
The eardrum and ossicles carry vibrations to the fluid that fills the inner ear. The vibrations move through the fluid into the snail-shaped hearing part of the inner ear, or the”cochlea.” The cochlea contains hair cells that move when they come in contact with the fluid. This starts the changes that lead to the production of nerve impulses. The nerve impulses are carried to the brain, where you interpret them as sound. Different sounds will stimulate different parts of the inner ear, allowing the brain to distinguish among different vowel and consonant sounds, for example. Like most complex organs in the body, your ears are pretty amazing things.
Now — back to the enigma of sudden hearing loss. Working on the hypothesis that superoxide anion radicals might be a factor in inner ear damage, Israeli scientists tested whether using vitamin E as an antioxidant could treat idiopathic sudden hearing loss. The study included 66 people, aged 15 to 70, who had developed idiopathic sudden hearing loss in the last seven days. All the patients were treated with steroids, magnesium, carbogen inhalation, and bed rest. One group was given vitamin E as well. Almost 80% of those using vitamin E saw over a 75% improvement in their hearing.
In another study, patients reported a 63% improvement in hearing gain when treated with vitamin E and vitamin C.