When we think of hearing loss, we typically think that it’s because the person listens to too many loud things, and that they should try to give their ears a break by hearing as little as possible. However, according to researchers as Case Western Reserve, the solution to preventing deafness might be to use your ears.
Let me explain. There are tiny hairs in your ear (stereocilia) which allow you to hear by vibrating. When overly loud noise hits these hair bundles, they whip back and forth, damaging them. However, if they are constantly stimulated with gentle sound, the movement of the hair bundles actually allows them to readjust, repair, and maintain the health of the hairs of the inner ear. The researchers looked at zebrafish, whose hair bundles move back and forth constantly at amazing speeds, which reinforced the idea. In more detail, the proteins that constitute the hair bundles have a higher turnover rate when under stimulation, meaning that the proteins in your ear hairs are replaced more often, allowing the hair to repair itself. Ears not used much retain the useless broken proteins, leading to poor hearing. Ear hairs used a lot are like muscles when working out: yeah, they’re a bit torn, but they’ll be stronger when they grow back.
The research team says they haven’t proven stereocilia repair themselves, and that they still need to look into more detail for that process (link for the more academically inclined). However, the theory looks very promising.
I find it interesting that biological organisms have a tendency to heal through usage, as it almost seems counterproductive to me. I typically think of rest and recuperation when I think of healing, but apparently biology wants you to just keep on chuggin’. What other systems or things do you think we have that heal with use?
To heal your hearing,
One needs to whip their hair back and forth.)