How to Reverse Hearing Loss and Tinnitus with Red Light Therapy

how to reverse hearing loss and tinnitus

In this article, video, podcast and slideshow, you’re going to learn how hearing works, the root cause of hearing loss and how hearing loss can be prevented and maybe even reversed.  

Be sure to stick around until the end and I’ll tell you about some of the most important nutrients for your hearing as well as the specific foods most rich in these nutrients.  That way you can eat them and ensure your hearing is as good as it can be for your entire life and avoid hearing loss.  

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Introduction

When I was in grade seven, I went to a dance with some of my friends at a roller rink in Waterloo, Ontario.  It was called The Phoenix.  I noticed the music was really loud but I didn’t really think too much of it until the next morning.  When I woke up, my ears were foggy and ringing; everything and everyone sounded muffled.  That was my first experience with hearing loss.  Thankfully it was only temporary.

Oh and by the way that roller rink… the very next weekend after I was there it was shut down because there was a fight and somebody ended up getting stabbed.

Most of us who are blessed with good hearing take it for granted.

Poor hearing is something that many people have to live with everyday and it comes at tremendous cost to their quality of life and to society.  If we could find a way to fix this problem it would benefit us all.

Medicine has some temporary fixes but has found no way to naturally restore hearing function without the use of electronic devices.  But maybe that’s because fixing people’s hearing naturally and permanently isn’t profitable?  Let’s take a look at what the scientific evidence has to say about hearing loss and if it can be prevented or reversed.

How the Ear Works

The hearing process can be made extraordinary complex, but simple is always best because it means more people can understand it.  With that in mind I’ve boiled down the hearing process into three phases.

First phase

The unique shape of the outer ear directs sound into the ear towards the ear drum.  Behind the ear drum are 3 tiny bones.  They are the smallest bones in the human body, called the malleus, incus and stapes.

Second Phase

How human hearing works, hearing loss and tinnitus

The ear drum and the bones behind it work in a piston-like fashion to amplify the sound and transfer it to the fluid inside a snail-looking organ called the cochlea.  By the time the sound reaches the cochlea, the sound pressure is 22-times greater than when it first arrived.

Third Phase

image of stereocilia in hearing loss
Frog stereocilia inside the cochlea

The sound travels through the watery substance inside of the cochlea until it reaches tiny hair cells called stereocilia.  The hair cells convert the mechanical stimulation into electrical impulses, which are then sent to the brain.[1]

Causes of Hearing Loss

Hearing loss can be inherited; some people are born with it, but most times it’s cause by other factors. Here are three of the most common types of hearing loss:

  1. Loud Noise – Noise-induced hearing loss is usually painless and occurs progressively over time.  Extreme loud noises like explosions can cause sudden hearing loss.  An estimated 26 million people (15% of the population) in the US have high-frequency NIHL.[2]
  2. Ototoxic Medications – Certain medications can cause hearing loss.  For example, chemotherapy drugs, or certain antibiotics like streptomycin, neomycin or kanamycin.
  3. Age-Related Hearing Loss – A type of hearing loss that occurs with aging.  To the person with this type of hearing loss, speech may begin to sound muffled or unclear.

What are the mechanisms behind the three types of hearing loss?

Damaged Auditory Hair Cells

For all three types of hearing loss (poison-induced, loud noise or age-related) the cause appears to be the same.  Here are quotes from 5 different studies that will illustrate the mechanisms behind hearing loss.

stereocilia image, these are damaged when people incur hearing loss and tinnitus
Image of stereocilia, which are damaged in people with hearing loss.
  1. “We have recorded from inner and outer hair cells (IHC, OHC) in the guinea pig cochlea during and after exposure to intense tones. Our results show functional changes in the hair cells that may explain the origin of noise-induced hearing loss.” [3]
  2. Exposure to intense sound or ototoxic drugs may damage the outer hair cells, thus drastically changing both mechanical and electrophysiological responses of the inner ear.” [4]
  3. Auditory outer hair cell degeneration is the most common cause of hearing loss in humans. [5]
  4. “The classical pathology of [noise-induced hearing loss] NIHL is destruction of auditory hair cells.” [6]
  5. “The primary cause of hearing loss includes damage to cochlear hair cells.” [7]

Converting sound waves to electrical signals happens to be done by the most fragile structures involved in hearing.  When they are damaged, hearing quality is reduced.  According to mainstream theory, auditory/cochlear hair cells cannot regenerate and hearing loss is irreversible.

Mitochondrial Damage: The Root Cause of Hearing Loss

In hearing loss, why do the cochlear hair cells die?

Two mitochondria, which are damaged during hearing loss and tinnitus
Mitochondrion within cells
  1. “Although details of the aging process differ in various organisms, there is a common understanding that oxidative stress and mitochondrial dysfunction play a major part in aging.  The auditory system is no exception…” [8,9]
  2. “ROS [Reactive oxygen species] production increases with age and it is known that oxidative stress and associated mitochondrial dysfunction play an important role in aging and age-related diseases.” [10,11]
  3. “Underlying the classic set of cochlear pathologies that occur as a result of noise exposure are increased levels of reactive oxygen species (ROS) that play a significant role in noise-induced hair cell death. Both necrotic and apoptotic cell death have been identified in the cochlea.” [12]
  4. “The important role of oxidative stress and mitochondrial dysfunction in the development of ARHL has been established by reviewing previous studies.“ [13]

It’s clear from the research that hearing loss is caused by oxidative stress and mitochondrial dysfunction.

Hearing Loss is a Metabolic Condition

The cause of hearing loss has now been established.  Although hearing loss can have a number of external causes, such as excessive noise, poison or ageing, ultimately they all damage hearing in the same way.

stereocilia, which are damaged in people with hearing loss and tinnitus

The stressor causes hair cells to release nitric oxide, which binds to cytochrome c oxidase, shutting down oxygen use and efficient energy production, causing free electrons (free radicals) to escape from the electron transport chain, causing damage to the mitochondria.

Hearing loss is caused by damage to the highly sensitive hair cells contained within the cochlea.  When the cells die hearing fails.

The free radical theory of hearing loss

If increased free radical production is a cause of hearing loss, then can antioxidants be used to prevent it from occurring?

When administered to animals prior to loud noise exposure, all of the following antioxidants have been shown to prevent hearing loss:

  • Glutathione [14,15]
  • D-methionine[16]
  • Ebselen[17]
  • Resveratrol[18]
  • Vitamin C[19,20]
  • Coenzyme Q10[21]
  • Salicylate [22]
  • N-acetylcysteine [23,24]

Furthermore, treatment up to 3 days after loud noise exposure was also able to reduce hearing loss to some degree.  Antioxidants administered both before and after loud noise can prevent and reverse hearing loss.

Red Light Therapy vs Hearing Loss

Light in the red and near-infrared ends of the spectrum accelerate healing in all cells and tissues.  One of the ways they accomplish this is by acting as potent antioxidants.  They also inhibits nitric oxide production.

Can red and near-infrared light prevent or reverse hearing loss?

In a 2016 study, researchers applied near-infrared light to auditory cells in vitro before placing them under oxidative stress by exposing them to various poisons.  After exposing the pre-conditioned cells to chemotherapy poison and endotoxin, study researchers found that the light altered the mitochondrial metabolism and oxidative stress response for up to 24 hours post treatment.

Chemotherapy and other toxic drugs can cause hearing loss
Chemotherapy and other toxic drugs can cause hearing loss

“We report a decrease of inflammatory cytokines and stress levels resulting from NIR applied to HEI-OC1 auditory cells before treatment with gentamicin or lipopolysaccharide,” wrote study authors.

Results of the study showed that pre-treatment with near-infrared light reduced the pro-inflammatory markers associated with increased reactive oxygen species and nitric oxide.[25]

Near-infrared light administered before chemical poisoning can prevent the release of factors that lead to  hearing loss.

Study #1: Can Red Light reverse Hearing Loss?

The effect of near-infrared light on hearing loss following chemotherapy poisoning was evaluated.  Hearing was assessed following gentamicin administration and again after 10 days of light therapy.

On scanning electron microscopic images, “LLLT significantly increased the number of hair cells in middle and basal turns. Hearing was significantly improved by laser irradiation.  After LLLT treatment, both the hearing threshold and hair-cell count significantly improved.” [26]

Near-infraRed light administered after chemical poisoning can regrow cochlear hair cells and restore hearing in mice.

Study #2: Can Red Light reverse Hearing Loss?

In this study, rats were exposed to intense noise in both ears.  Afterwards, their right ears were irradiated with near-infrared light for 30 minute treatments everyday for 5 days.

Measurement of the auditory brainstem response revealed an accelerated recovery of auditory function in the groups treated with LLLT compared with the non-treatment group at days 2, 4, 7 and 14 after noise exposure.  Morphological observations also revealed a significantly higher outer hair cell survival rate in the LLLT groups.

Looking for indicators of oxidative stress and apoptosis in untreated vs treated cells, researchers found “Strong immunoreactivities were observed in the inner ear tissues of the non-treatment group, whereas these signals were decreased in the LLLT group at 165mW/cm(2) power density.” [27]

“Our findings suggest that LLLT has cytoprotective effects against NIHL via the inhibition of iNOS expression and apoptosis.”

Study #3: Can Red Light reverse Hearing Loss?

In a 2012 study, nine rats were exposed to loud noise and the use of near-infrared light on hearing recovery was tested.  The day after loud noise exposure, the left ears of the rats were treated with near-infrared light for 60 minutes for 12 days in a row.  The right ears were untreated and considered the control group.

“After the 12th irradiation, hearing threshold was significantly lower for the left ears compared to the right ears.”  When observed using an electron microscope, the number of auditory hair cells in the treated ears was significantly larger than that of the untreated ears. [28]

“Our findings suggest that low-level laser irradiation promotes recovery of hearing thresholds after acute acoustic trauma.”

Red Light Therapy vs Tinnitus

Tinnitus is a condition marked by constant ringing of the ears. 

Mainstream theory can’t really explain why tinnitus occurs.  “Due to large number of causes and limited knowledge of its pathophysiology, tinnitus still remains an obscure symptom,” wrote one group of researchers.

evidence suggests red light and antioxidants can treat or reverse tinnitus and hearing loss

The most likely theory for the cause of tinnitus states that when the cochlear hair cells become damaged, they begin randomly sending electrical signals to the brain.

This would be a pretty horrendous thing to have to live with, so this section is dedicated to anyone out there with tinnitus.  If you know anyone with it please send them this video/article or podcast episode.

Can red light alleviate ringing of the ears in people with tinnitus?

Can Red Light reverse tinnitus?

In a 2014 study, researchers tested LLLT on 120 patients with untreatable tinnitus and hearing loss.  Patients were divided into two groups.

Group one received laser therapy treatment for 20 sessions consisting of 20 minutes each

Group two was the control group.  They thought they received the laser treatment but power to the devices was switched off.

Results

“The mean difference of severity of tinnitus between the two groups was statistically significant at the end of the study and 3 months after completion of treatment.” [29]

“Low level laser radiation is effective for short-term treatment of Tinnitus caused by sensorineural hearing loss and its impact may be reduced over the time.”

Dietary essentials for preventing hearing loss

The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey[30] documented a significant relationship between dietary quality and auditory sensitivity at high frequencies.

Here are some dietary and lifestyle changes you can make to improve the quality of your hearing and increase your resistance to hearing loss from various stressors as well as aging.

References

  1. Fuchs PA, Glowatzki E, Moser T. The afferent synapse of cochlear hair cells. Curr Opin Neurobiol. 2003;13(4):452-8.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12965293
  2. Sha SH, Schacht J. Emerging therapeutic interventions against noise-induced hearing loss. Expert Opin Investig Drugs. 2017;26(1):85-96.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5527323
  3. Cody AR, Russell IJ. Outer hair cells in the mammalian cochlea and noise-induced hearing loss. Nature. 1985;315(6021):662-5. 
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/4010777
  4. Ulfendahl M. [“The cochlear amplifier”. A crucial component of the hearing mechanism]. Lakartidningen. 1997;94(45):4077-80. 
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9424498
  5. Wiwatpanit T, Remis NN, Ahmad A, et al. Codeficiency of Lysosomal Mucolipins 3 and 1 in Cochlear Hair Cells Diminishes Outer Hair Cell Longevity and Accelerates Age-Related Hearing Loss. J Neurosci. 2018;38(13):3177-3189.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29453205
  6. Sha SH, Schacht J. Emerging therapeutic interventions against noise-induced hearing loss. Expert Opin Investig Drugs. 2017;26(1):85-96. 
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5527323
  7. Rhee CK, He P, Jung JY, et al. Effect of low-level laser treatment on cochlea hair-cell recovery after ototoxic hearing loss. J Biomed Opt. 2013;18(12):128003. 
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24343446
  8. Beckman KB, Ames BN. The free radical theory of aging matures. Physiol Rev. 1998;78(2):547-81.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9562038
  9. Harman D. Aging: a theory based on free radical and radiation chemistry. J Gerontol. 1956;11(3):298-300.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/13332224
  10. Balaban RS, Nemoto S, Finkel T. Mitochondria, oxidants, and aging. Cell. 2005;120(4):483-95.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15734681
  11. Lin MT, Beal MF. Mitochondrial dysfunction and oxidative stress in neurodegenerative diseases. Nature. 2006;443(7113):787-95. 
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17051205
  12. Henderson D, Bielefeld EC, Harris KC, Hu BH. The role of oxidative stress in noise-induced hearing loss. Ear Hear. 2006;27(1):1-19.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16446561
  13. Fujimoto C, Yamasoba T. Oxidative stresses and mitochondrial dysfunction in age-related hearing loss. Oxid Med Cell Longev. 2014;2014:582849.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4106174
  14. Ohinata Y, Yamasoba T, Schacht J, Miller JM. Glutathione limits noise-induced hearing loss. Hear Res. 2000;146(1-2):28-34. 
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10913881
  15. Yamasoba T, Nuttall AL, Harris C, Raphael Y, Miller JM. Role of glutathione in protection against noise-induced hearing loss. Brain Res. 1998;784(1-2):82-90.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9518561
  16. Campbell KC, Meech RP, Klemens JJ, et al. Prevention of noise- and drug-induced hearing loss with D-methionine. Hear Res. 2007;226(1-2):92-103.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17224251
  17. Pourbakht A, Yamasoba T. Ebselen attenuates cochlear damage caused by acoustic trauma. Hear Res. 2003;181(1-2):100-8.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12855368
  18. Seidman M, Babu S, Tang W, Naem E, Quirk WS. Effects of resveratrol on acoustic trauma. Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2003;129(5):463-70.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14595267
  19. Mcfadden SL, Woo JM, Michalak N, Ding D. Dietary vitamin C supplementation reduces noise-induced hearing loss in guinea pigs. Hear Res. 2005;202(1-2):200-8.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15811712
  20. Heinrich UR, Fischer I, Brieger J, et al. Ascorbic acid reduces noise-induced nitric oxide production in the guinea pig ear. Laryngoscope. 2008;118(5):837-42.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18197132
  21. Fetoni AR, Piacentini R, Fiorita A, Paludetti G, Troiani D. Water-soluble Coenzyme Q10 formulation (Q-ter) promotes outer hair cell survival in a guinea pig model of noise induced hearing loss (NIHL). Brain Res. 2009;1257:108-16.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19133240
  22. Yamashita D, Jiang HY, Le prell CG, Schacht J, Miller JM. Post-exposure treatment attenuates noise-induced hearing loss. Neuroscience. 2005;134(2):633-42.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15961244
  23. Hoffer ME, Balaban C, Slade MD, Tsao JW, Hoffer B. Amelioration of acute sequelae of blast induced mild traumatic brain injury by N-acetyl cysteine: a double-blind, placebo controlled study. PLoS ONE. 2013;8(1):e54163.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23372680
  24. Bielefeld EC, Kopke RD, Jackson RL, Coleman JK, Liu J, Henderson D. Noise protection with N-acetyl-l-cysteine (NAC) using a variety of noise exposures, NAC doses, and routes of administration. Acta Otolaryngol. 2007;127(9):914-9.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17712668
  25. Bartos A, Grondin Y, Bortoni ME, et al. Pre-conditioning with near infrared photobiomodulation reduces inflammatory cytokines and markers of oxidative stress in cochlear hair cells. J Biophotonics. 2016;9(11-12):1125-1135.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26790619
  26. Rhee CK, He P, Jung JY, et al. Effect of low-level laser treatment on cochlea hair-cell recovery after ototoxic hearing loss. J Biomed Opt. 2013;18(12):128003.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24343446
  27. Tamura A, Matsunobu T, Mizutari K, et al. Low-level laser therapy for prevention of noise-induced hearing loss in rats. Neurosci Lett. 2015;595:81-6.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25797186
  28. Rhee CK, Bahk CW, Kim SH, et al. Effect of low-level laser treatment on cochlea hair-cell recovery after acute acoustic trauma. J Biomed Opt. 2012;17(6):068002.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22734788
  29. Mirvakili A, Mehrparvar A, Mostaghaci M, et al. Low level laser effect in treatment of patients with intractable tinnitus due to sensorineural hearing loss. J Lasers Med Sci. 2014;5(2):71-4.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25653802
  30. Spankovich C, Le prell CG. Associations between dietary quality, noise, and hearing: data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 1999-2002. Int J Audiol. 2014;53(11):796-809.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24975234
  31. Shemesh Z, Attias J, Ornan M, Shapira N, Shahar A. Vitamin B12 deficiency in patients with chronic-tinnitus and noise-induced hearing loss. Am J Otolaryngol. 1993;14(2):94-9.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8484483
  32. Tao L, Davis R, Heyer N, et al. Effect of cigarette smoking on noise-induced hearing loss in workers exposed to occupational noise in China. Noise Health. 2013;15(62):67-72.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23412581
  33. Mehrparvar AH, Mollasadeghi A, Hashemi SH, Sakhvidi MJ, Mostaghaci M, Davari MH. Simultaneous effects of noise exposure and smoking on OAEs. Noise Health. 2015;17(77):233-6.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26168954
  34. Joachims Z, Babisch W, Ising H, Günther T, Handrock M. Dependence of noise-induced hearing loss upon perilymph magnesium concentration. J Acoust Soc Am. 1983;74(1):104-8.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6886192

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