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Protective Hearing Loss

May 9, 2013

Temporary hearing loss protects the ear against long-term damage.

Transcript

BOB HIRSHON (Host):

How ears protect themselves. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

(SFX: Ozzy Osbourne concert)

Rock concerts and fireworks didn’t exist when ears evolved, which is why today we’re so vulnerable to hearing loss. But now, scientists have discovered that short-term hearing loss can protect against permanent ear damage. University of California, San Diego neuroscientist Allen Ryan and his colleagues found that in mice, exposure to loud noise turns on a gene called p2rx2, which causes temporary hearing impairment. Mice without a functional p2rx2 gene don’t experience temporary hearing loss, but are more likely to develop permanent hearing loss as noise levels go up.

ALLEN RYAN (UCSD Medical School):

Temporary loss is part of the protection mechanism of the ear.

(Ozzy Osbourne concert)

HIRSHON:

But, Ozzy Osbourne fans, there are limits: the ear can take only short bouts of loud noise before sustaining permanent damage. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society. 

Ears evolved before the invention of rock music, explosions, and other loud man-made noise. (Jupiter Images)