Pharmaceutical Interventions for Hearing Loss: Could a Pill Protect your Ears?
By: Colleen G. Le Prell, Contributor
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates development of investigational medicines and is responsible for approving new medicines. New medicines must provide clinically significant benefits during rigorous clinical tests in human volunteers. The FDA approved the first pharmaceutical for a hearing loss prevention indication in September 2022, designed to prevent hearing loss associated with a common chemotherapeutic drug (cisplatin). Nothing has been approved by the FDA for prevention of noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL).
Therapies that prevent NIHL are of high interest, given millions of workers exposed to hazardous noise in occupational settings. Unfortunately, NIHL can be observed despite use of hearing protection devices (HPDs), i.e., earplugs and earmuffs. These products are sometimes not available when they are needed and may sometimes be used incorrectly—particularly if training on HPD use is infrequent or insufficient.
Medicinal products for NIHL prevention could one day be approved by the FDA, with possible use by workers to supplement the protection provided by HPDs. There are many ongoing efforts to test novel inner-ear therapeutics for possible human hearing benefits, including preventing NIHL.
Decreasing sound exposure in the workplace through engineering controls is the best strategy for prevention of occupational NIHL. Supporting consistent and correct use of HPDs, including verification of worker-achieved attenuation using specific “fit-testing” protocols, is essential when engineering controls are not feasible. Perhaps, one day, new medicines will supplement HPDs in preventing NIHL (see chart).
About the Author:
Colleen G. Le Prell, The University of Texas at Dallas, Professor and National Hearing Conservation Association (NHCA) Expert. Visit NHCA at: https://www.hearingconservation.org/.