There are many possible causes of hearing loss, ranging from wax in the ear canal to problems with the nerves that receive sound and transmit it to the brain. Two of the most common causes are age-related hearing loss (presbycusis) and noise-induced hearing loss. The treatment for hearing loss depends on its cause, and for that reason medical consultation is essential.
In this article, we discuss a few herbs and supplements that have shown promise for various forms of hearing loss. See also the article on
for hearing problems that involve ringing in the ears.
Principal Proposed Natural Treatments
Two natural treatments have been evaluated in
double-blind, placebo-controlled trials
for the prevention or treatment of hearing loss.
Magnesium for Preventing Noise-induced Hearing Loss
Long-term exposure to loud sounds, such as gunfire or rock music, can cause permanent hearing loss. A 2-month, double-blind, placebo-controlled study of 300 military recruits found daily supplementation with
helped protect the ear from noise-induced damage.
The dosage used in this study was quite small—only 167 milligrams (mg) of magnesium daily—but tests showed that even this amount was sufficient to raise magnesium levels inside cells and apparently protect the ear from damage. Soldiers who received the magnesium were less likely to experience permanent hearing damage than those in the placebo group, and when they did experience hearing damage, it was less severe.
It is not clear how magnesium might protect hearing. Studies in animals suggest that magnesium deficiency can increase the stress on cells involved with hearing and thereby make them more susceptible to damage caused by intense noise.
However, human magnesium deficiency is believed to be rare, so it is possible that supplemental magnesium acts in some entirely different way.
At present, only the use of noise-reduction devices (e.g., headsets that block sound) have been proven effective for preventing noise-induced hearing loss, and this study does not indicate that magnesium supplements can replace this tried-and-true approach. However, this study suggests that a safe, low dose of magnesium may add an additional level of protection.
For more information, including dosage and safety issues, see the full
Ginkgo for Treating Sudden Hearing Loss
Some people develop hearing loss suddenly, usually in one ear. This condition is called “unilateral idiopathic sudden hearing loss.” Its cause is unknown, but problems with circulation may play a role in some cases. The herb
is thought to increase circulation, and for that reason it has been tried as a treatment for this condition.
In a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial, 106 participants with a carefully defined form of sudden hearing loss were given either a full dose of ginkgo extract (120 mg twice daily) or a low dose of the herb (12 mg twice daily).
The lower dose was chosen in the belief that it couldn’t possibly offer any benefit, and would therefore serve as placebo. However, researchers were surprised to find that most participants in each group recovered by the end of the 8-week trial. There are two possibilities to explain this: low-dose ginkgo is effective, or many people with sudden hearing loss recover on their own anyway.
Because both groups improved to such a great extent, the overall results of the trial did not prove ginkgo effective. An exploratory look at the data provided some tantalizing hints that high-dose ginkgo may have helped ensure full recovery, but for statistical reasons these tantalizing hints can’t be taken as proof.
Another double-blind study compared ginkgo to pentoxifylline, a circulation-enhancing drug used in Germany for the treatment of sudden hearing loss.
The results indicate that ginkgo was at least as effective as the medication. However, because pentoxifylline is not a proven treatment for this condition, the results prove little.
Additional research will be necessary to discover whether ginkgo is actually effective for sudden hearing loss. For more information on this herb, including dosage and safety issues, see the full
Other Proposed Natural Treatments
A study in animals suggests that the supplement
might help prevent age-related hearing loss.
Another animal study suggests that
may help prevent hearing loss induced by noise.
Free radicals are naturally occurring substances that cause damage to many parts of the body, including the ear. Antioxidants are substances that fight free radicals. Antioxidant supplements have shown promise for preventing various forms of hearing loss, including age-related hearing loss and hearing damage caused by medications.
Commonly used antioxidants include the following:
Other natural treatments sometimes used for various forms of hearing loss, but which lack meaningful scientific support, include