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Hearing Loss Facts and the Possibility of Stem Cell Therapy

Linda Crampton is a writer and former teacher with a first-class honors degree in biology. She writes about the scientific basis of disease.

The cochlea in the internal or inner ear is a critical structure for hearing.

The cochlea in the internal or inner ear is a critical structure for hearing.

Possible Help for Hearing Loss

Hearing loss is a frustrating and sometimes life-altering condition. It's often treated with hearing aids or sometimes with cochlear implants. These treatments can frequently be helpful, but the degree of hearing improvement that they provide varies considerably. There is hope for the future, however. Researchers are investigating the use of stem cells to produce the vital inner ear cells that are needed for hearing and are destroyed in many (but not all) cases of hearing loss. Recent discoveries in this area are exciting.

I've had sensorineural hearing loss for many years. My hearing aids provide some help, but a better way of dealing with the disorder would be wonderful. The stem cell studies interest me not only because I enjoy exploring the latest human biology research but also because the results of the research might one day help me.

Parts of the Ear and Their Functions

There are three parts to the ear: the outer, middle, and inner ear. Hearing loss can occur due to a problem in any of these areas.

Outer Ear

The visible part of the outer ear is called the pinna or auricle. The pinna collects sound vibrations and directs them along the ear canal, which is also called the auditory canal. The eardrum or tympanic membrane is located at the end of the ear canal. The vibrations hit the eardrum and cause it to vibrate.

Middle Ear

The eardrum is connected to a series of three tiny bones known as ossicles. Vibrations travel from the eardrum into the first ossicle, which is known as the malleus or hammer. This transmits the vibrations to the incus or anvil, which then causes the stapes or stirrup to vibrate. The second name for each ossicle arose due to its shape, which reminded earlier scientists of objects outside the ear. Like the outer ear, the middle ear is normally filled with air.