Hearing Loss


Research doesn’t stop when we report it. Here are updates on past UConn Health Journal stories:

Hearing Loss

UConn Health otolaryngologist Dr. Kourosh Parham and his colleagues are collaborating with French pharmaceutical company Sensorion to develop a blood test that can warn patients and their doctors of early damage to the inner ear, before hearing loss is noticeable. Parham and his colleagues report in Hearing Research that levels of prestin, a protein found only in cells in the inner ear, rise sharply when those cells are damaged and start to die. Currently, hearing loss can only be identified after it has occurred.

Physician-scientist Dr. Kourosh Parham looks in patients ear

Fall 2016, “Detecting Vertigo, Hearing Loss via Blood Tests”

Health Disparities

Men and boys of color in Connecticut are less likely to have health insurance, more likely to be victims of violence, and more likely to die early from preventable diseases than their non-Hispanic white counterparts, UConn’s Health Disparities Institute reports in its inaugural Connecticut Report Card on Health Equity Among Men and Boys of Color. The report identifies social experiences that can negatively impact health in the population, as well as actions the state can take to address the disparities. Read more at UConn Today.

young black father looks over his ailing son on a hospital

Summer 2018, “Bridging the Health Care Gap”

Follow-Up – Summer 2018

Research doesn’t stop when we report it. Here are updates on past UConn Health Journal stories:

Glycogen Storage Disease

The world’s first gene therapy clinical trial for Glycogen Storage Disease (GSD) Type Ia is expected to start this year, hosted by the GSD Program at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center and UConn Health, under the direction of Dr. David Weinstein. The FDA–approved trials will be done in conjunction with biopharmaceutical company Ultragenyx.

Spring 2017, “Free to Be Imperfect”

Advancing Surgical Care for Older Adults

UConn John Dempsey Hospital will be one of seven U.S. hospitals to pilot-test newly developed guidelines for improving the quality of surgical care for older adults for the American College of Surgeons’ Coalition for Quality in Geriatric Surgery (CQGS), the American Geriatric Society, and the John A. Hartford Foundation.

Fall 2017, “Pinpointing Risk Factors to Prevent Postoperative Delirium”

Detecting Hearing Loss

Findings presented at the 53rd American Neurotology Society annual spring meeting reveal the first potential biomarker for noise-induced hearing loss. A collaborative study by UConn Health and Sensorion showed changing levels of prestin, an outer hair cell protein, in the blood correlated with the severity of hearing loss.

Fall 2016, “Detecting Hearing Loss, Vertigo Via Blood Tests”

Breast Health

UConn Health assistant professor and breast surgeon Dr. Christina Stevenson has begun providing breast health education in hair salons, funded by the Connecticut Breast Health Initiative. The program aims to reach women in Hartford County who may be at risk for late- stage diagnosis of breast cancer due to health care access barriers.

Fall 2016, “On the Ground for Breast Cancer Awareness”

Skin Cancer Screening

Up to 60 percent of UConn Health patients with a suspicious skin lesion or mole can now avoid invasive biopsies thanks to confocal microscopy technology, according to dermatologist Dr. Jane Grant-Kels. The technology uses a painless laser light to see skin cells on a cellular level and help doctors identify skin cancers, including melanoma.

Summer 2016, “Finding Skin Cancer in a Flash”

Cooling Cap Therapy

Marisa Dolce, a Carole and Ray Neag Comprehensive Cancer Center breast cancer patient, reported keeping 70 percent of her hair as the first UConn Health patient to use optional scalp-cooling technology while undergoing chemotherapy. UConn Health is the only Connecticut institution outside Fairfield County to offer the FDA-approved DigniCap.

Fall 2017, “Cooling Off Chemotherapy’s Side Effects”

Detecting Hearing Loss, Vertigo via Blood Tests

Physician-scientist Dr. Kourosh Parham looks in patients ear

Physician-scientist Dr. Kourosh Parham has filed for a patent on a blood test that can provide early diagnosis of hearing loss. In this photo, he uses an otomicroscope to examine the ear of a patient. Photo: Peter Morenus

A UConn Health physician-scientist has developed the first-ever blood tests for hearing loss and vertigo, and is currently testing their promise.

Dr. Kourosh Parham, associate professor and director of research in the Division of Otolaryngology — Head and Neck Surgery in the Department of Surgery at UConn Health, has discovered that two recently identified unique inner ear proteins can be detected in minute quantities in the blood, and that their levels correlate with inner ear disorders. This means that these proteins could serve as blood biomarkers, which may help improve the early detection and diagnosis of hearing loss or vertigo.

Accelerating Vertigo Diagnoses

Parham’s investigations first led him to discover a unique blood biomarker for benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV), a common condition that can cause severe dizziness due to inner ear abnormalities.

Vertigo symptoms can include sudden onset of extreme dizziness that can become nauseating and cause loss of balance, often leading to falls and bone fractures. It can have a debilitating impact on a person’s daily function and quality of life, with episodes lasting from two weeks to as long as six months.

Early identification of at-risk people will allow for intervention before disabling hearing loss or tinnitus develops, and will hopefully reduce other health complications and financial burdens linked to these conditions.

While it can strike at any age, BPPV is by far the most common cause of vertigo in the elderly. It’s challenging for primary care and emergency medicine specialists to diagnose, often leading to costly, unnecessary imaging tests.

The inner ear has crystals, called otoconia, that act as gravity detectors to help the human body balance. Normally, they don’t move. But as people age, the crystals loosen, allowing them to enter the inner ear’s sensitive canals. Loose ear crystals, jostled by a simple head turn or movement, are the culprit behind BPPV.

The inner ear secretes a number of unique proteins including Otolin-1, which is one of the building blocks of the crystals. In his 2014 study findings, published in Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery, Parham reported that these crystals eventually dissolve and their derivatives are released into the body’s blood stream, where they can be detected. His study showed Otolin-1 was present in the blood of all study subjects, but at much higher levels in the blood of the BPPV population.

Currently, there are no medications to treat vertigo, only medications to suppress symptoms. According to Parham, improved tools to diagnose BPPV quickly can be followed by maneuvers to guide loose crystals back into place and relieve the dizziness sooner.

Early Hearing Loss Identification, Early Intervention

Further, Parham has demonstrated that changes in the levels of a protein called prestin in the blood are linked to hearing loss, before the loss can measured by hearing tests.

Hearing loss can be inherited, but is most often acquired through acoustic trauma, prolonged exposure to loud noise, or toxicity from medications including chemotherapy, which lead to damage of intricate cellular components of the inner ear.

Acquired hearing loss is widespread. Nearly 50 million Americans live with some type of hearing loss or tinnitus (ringing in the ears) that not only impacts their daily lives, but also has been shown to put them at higher risk of experiencing poor health outcomes and makes them twice as likely to develop dementia.

Currently, hearing loss can only be diagnosed through hearing tests such as audiograms. There is no way to detect hearing loss at its earliest stages, leaving patients vulnerable and their doctors frustrated with limited prevention and intervention options.

“Detecting early warning signs of hearing loss is critical to ease the burden and disability from this condition and to better manage the future overall health of those affected,” Parham says.

In the inner ear, a small, snail-shaped structure called the cochlea helps the body process sound. The cochlea has a series of small fluid-filled canals containing outer hair cells (OHC) that manage the cochlea’s ability to tune sound and increase its sensitivity to sound.

OHC are known to show the first damage from excessive noise or toxicity injury. Parham’s new blood test traces the specific protein — prestin — that is located in the OHC’s inner cellular membranes and released when the OHC are injured. The simple blood test detects inner ear damage and also helps quantify the extent of the hearing loss by measuring the level of the protein in the blood.

Parham’s blood tests have already proven successful in the laboratory, and he plans to conduct human clinical trials soon. He has filed a patent for the biomarker blood tests he developed.

“Our research into these biomarkers and blood tests aims to establish new clinical norms when detecting early hearing loss, vertigo, and other inner ear disorders,” says Parham. “Early identification of at-risk people will allow for intervention before disabling hearing loss or tinnitus develops, and will hopefully reduce other health complications and financial burdens linked to these conditions.”

visual representation of the feeling of vertigo using linework and the silhouette of a human head

One recent large epidemiological study estimates that as many as 35% of adults aged 40 years or older in the United States — approximately 69 million Americans — have experienced some form of vestibular dysfunction (disorders of the vestibular system, which includes parts of the inner ear and brain that control balance and eye movement). Archives of Internal Medicine,May 25, 2009