Antioxidants have been named in numerous studies determining how to effectively combat issues ranging from basic aging to more intense issues like hearing loss and hearing disorders. While many of us are familiar with reactive oxygen species and how antioxidants interact with free radicals in the body, the role of oxidative stress is not often discussed with regard to noise exposure, the hair cells in the ears responsible for the transmission of sound, and more, few people truly recognize how oxidative stress can be prevented to support health in the body, including ear and hearing health. Below, we will dive deeper into what antioxidants are, what oxidative stress is, and how they both can be tied to hearing loss, inner ear health, and tinnitus patients.
What Are Antioxidants?
Within our bodies, there are normal chemical processes that occur. Sometimes during these processes, changes occur within molecules that result in the presence of chemicals called “free radicals.” Free radicals containing oxygen are referred to as “reactive oxygen species” (ROS). When there are high levels of free radicals present, they may be harmful to our bodies by putting our cells under oxidative stress.
Antioxidants are other chemicals present within our body that interact with free radicals and prevent them from causing harm. Given this, one may think that the more antioxidants we have, the more healthy we should be. However, this is not the case, as high levels of antioxidants may interfere with our body’s normal processes. Aside from the antioxidants that our bodies naturally produce, antioxidants can come from a variety of other places, including foods and dietary supplements.
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Antioxidant therapy has been studied in a variety of medical contexts, including treatment of pancreatitis, preeclampsia, kidney disease, pulmonary fibrosis, anxiety and depression, respiratory distress, and others. What about those with hearing disorders and/or idiopathic tinnitus? First, let’s take a closer look at what happens when the body experiences increased oxidative stress and how it can lead to differences to health and well-being, including changes to tinnitus intensity.
What Is Oxidative Stress?
There are statistically significant differences between the health of populations with markers of oxidative stress and those without significant levels of oxidative stress, effectively linking this type of stress in the body and many different types of disorder and illness. What is oxidative stress, exactly, and how does it impact or interact with antioxidant properties of different foods, medicines, and more? Oxidative stress is the general term given to an imbalance in reactive oxygen species and stable molecules, or an inability to rectify or heal the issues brought about by free radicals (the aforementioned reactive oxygen species).
Oxidative stress impacts many different systems in the body, ranging from hearing disorders and hearing loss to cell death and autoimmune disorders and diseases. When the body experiences increased oxidative stress, sensory and neural cells can experience setbacks. With regard to ear health, this can mean hair cell death, acoustic trauma, and other oxidative damage specific to the ears and hearing system. Ultimately, this can result in increases to tinnitus intensity, and has even been suggested as a possible mechanism that produces hearing disorders.
Can Antioxidants Prevent Hearing Loss?
While antioxidant therapy has been suggested as a possible means of decreasing noise-induced hearing loss or noise-induced cochlear damage, its effectiveness can depend on several factors. The support for antioxidant therapy as a definitive cure or prevention for hearing disorders is not unequivocal. Ultimately, the precise disorder in question and its underlying mechanism will determine how effective an antioxidant treatment may be in addressing the root issue.
Noise Induced Hearing Loss
Research has led us to believe that high levels of noise exposure can lead to high levels of ROS, which damages cells in the inner ear. There have been multiple treatment options proposed to reduce the impact of intense noise exposure. One recently published paper proposes the use of an antioxidant therapy called HK-2 and suggests that it may prevent the effects of excessive noise exposure. Other studies suggest that results may be promising, as well, to combat the effects of loud noise. In this case, a controlled trial does suggest that correcting oxidative damage can help reduce hearing disorders like noise induced hearing loss.
Cisplatin is a specific type of chemotherapy drug that can cause damage to hearing structures. This is referred to as “ototoxicity.” Research has examined the role of antioxidants in preventing the ototoxicity of cisplatin and, though there may be some promising applications developed in the future, more research is needed in this area. For this reason, suggesting that the treatment of oxidative stress will limit or reverse the effects of ototoxicity is questionable at best, pending further statistical analysis and evaluation.
Age Related Hearing Loss
Sensorineural hearing loss (inner ear hearing loss) is more common in older individuals, and is therefore often referred to as “age related hearing loss.” Researchers have wondered whether using antioxidant therapy may slow or prevent sensorineural hearing loss that occurs in the inner ear over time, due to aging. Although results from animal models seem interesting, more evidence is needed before this can be applied to a human clinical trial to address an aging auditory system and the subsequent sensorineural hearing loss and inner ear damage that can occur.
Idiopathic Sudden Hearing Loss
When an individual experiences sudden hearing loss that cannot be linked to a specific cause, it is said to be idiopathic. The role of vitamin E in recovery of sudden hearing loss has been studied and, although studies of this nature are difficult to interpret due to the possibility of spontaneous recovery, researchers suggest that this may be an option to consider. Vitamin E alone is not typically considered a viable treatment, nor is the use of vitamin E supplementation always recommended, but for those with this type of hearing loss, vitamin E may be worth a try.
Can Antioxidants Prevent Or Treat Tinnitus?
Although there is some evidence that antioxidant use may reduce tinnitus symptoms, other research does not support its use in this capacity. It appears that there is not enough evidence to support the use of antioxidants to treat tinnitus at this time, although the role of oxidative stress in the generation of tinnitus or hearing health as a whole is not yet clearly defined and warrants further study. There is some recent evidence that combining antioxidants with some other therapies may be an effective strategy that requires further investigation.
Whether tinnitus presents in conjunction with noise induced hearing loss, or oxidative stress is introduced to the body and leads to hearing loss is another way entirely, there is often no real issue in adding antioxidants to your routine; because other issues can be caused by oxidative stress and antioxidants overall have frequently been linked to improvements in health as a whole, there is not usually a great deal of warning against using antioxidants–even if they do not reverse the damage caused to hair cells when noise exposure is present, or when oxidative stress affects the ears.
Other Conditions Linked To Reactive Oxygen Species
ROS are not only linked to sensorineural hearing loss; serum total antioxidant capacity is considered a considerable biomarker for cancer, and is directly tied to oxidative stress. Lipid peroxidation is another example of free radicals, or ROS, and has been tied to cancer, atherosclerosis, and even neurodegenerative disorders. While tinnitus patients may experience changes in intensity of symptoms in response to increased oxidative stress, there are countless other conditions and disorders that can be linked to free radicals, and these issues can also be tied to issues with noise, health, and hearing.
Effective Tinnitus Treatments
From occupational noise exposure, to damaged cochlear and cortical responses, there are effective ways to address tinnitus, even in the absence of antioxidant therapy, or if antioxidant therapy ultimately proves to be ineffective in specifically targeting tinnitus symptoms. The most common interventions for tinnitus treatment include:
- Tinnitus Retraining Therapy (TRT). Tinnitus patients frequently turn to TRT to address the phantom sounds that can accompany damage to sensory hair cells and other hearing loss. TRT combines counseling, education, and sound therapy, to help reduce the sounds of tinnitus and improve quality of life.
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). While CBT cannot physically address any issues, like antioxidant compounds, it can help support mental health, and mental and emotional responses to tinnitus symptoms. Over time, this can help improve responses to tinnitus symptoms, even if issues with blood flow, damaged cochlear hair cells, and oxidative stress remain.
- Sound Therapy. Sound therapy provides a different noise on which to focus, in order to essentially distract tinnitus patients from the phantom auditory perception characteristic of the condition. Whether sound therapy is delivered periodically, from a tabletop machine, or is used constantly with hearing aids, it can be an important tool to lessen the impact of tinnitus.
- Hearing Aids. Noise, health, and hearing can all be addressed using hearing aids. Hearing aids can address hearing disorders and hearing loss of all types, from age related hearing loss to other types of sensorineural hearing loss and conductive hearing loss. Tinnitus can be addressed using hearing aids to limit the effect of tinnitus on hearing, effectively helping tinnitus patients better hear conversations and environmental noise.
The interventions above will not address oxidative stress and hearing disorders that occur directly as a result of oxidative stress; instead, they can help address the effects of age related hearing loss and other hearing disorders–namely, tinnitus–that can be accompanied by hearing disorders or different types of hearing loss. Oxidative stress can be addressed somewhat by reducing the amount of stress experienced in response to hearing loss and hearing disorders, but these treatments are not designed to make the ear hear more effectively; instead, they are designed to help repair responses to tinnitus and effectively reduce the reach of tinnitus symptoms.
Whether you use antioxidants to support health, or bring the question of using antioxidants to your physician, it is wise to turn to consistent treatment options that have been evaluated using a randomized double blind placebo controlled trial, in order to make sure that your acoustic trauma, oxidative damage, and hearing loss are all being addressed appropriately and with the therapy most likely to produce lasting results, avoid permanent hearing loss, and improve quality of life.
Effective Tinnitus Treatments With Treble Health
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