Eric Clapton Losing His Hearing: Can High-Tech Fixes Help Boomers?

Eric Clapton Losing His Hearing: Can High-Tech Fixes Help Boomers?

Add Eric Clapton to the growing list of baby boomer rock musicians — and their fans — who are losing their hearing.

The 72-year-old guitar legend disclosed that he is struggling with tinnitus, a ringing in the ear commonly caused by noise-induced hearing loss, in an interview this week on BBC Radio 2.

But like Genesis drummer Phil Collins and Who guitarist Pete Townsend and, who have both struggled with hearing loss, Clapton says he intends to continue performing for the foreseeable future.

“I am still going to work. I’m doing a few gigs. I am going to do a show at Hyde Park [British Summer Time Festival] in July,” he says.

“The only thing I’m concerned with now is being in my seventies and being able to be proficient. I mean, I’m going deaf, I’ve got tinnitus, my hands just about work. I mean, I am hoping that people will come along and see me [for] more than [because] I am a curiosity. I know that is part of it, because it’s amazing to myself that I am still here.”

It’s not just celebrity musicians who are losing their hearing, experts note. Baby boomers grew up listening to loud music in the 1960s and 1970s — as well as younger Americans using ear-damaging earbuds — are now paying the price.

Millions of Americans suffer hearing loss and high-tech and biotech companies are scrambling to develop medications and other lower-cost alternatives to expensive, clunky, and sometimes-ineffective hearing aids and surgical implants that have been around for decades.

At least half a dozen biotech firms are working on potential breakthroughs in how hearing loss is treated, the Boston Globe reports.

“It would be wonderful if we could restore the inner ear to its native condition by targeting specific cells with the right treatment,’’ said Dr. Bradley Welling, a neurotologic surgeon at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary in Boston. “We’re getting closer, and the tools are improving all the time.’’

Experts say hearing loss is more prevalent today, in part, because people are living longer. The World Health Organization affects nearly 50 million Americans and about 360 million people worldwide. Among the advances noted by the Globe:

Frequency Therapeutics Inc. has raised $32 million from private investors and venture capital firms to back its effort to activate so-called progenitor cells that can repair damage in the spiral cavity of the inner ear by generating new hair cells.
Decibel Therapeutics Inc. has raised almost $57 million from investors led by Third Rock Ventures, to identify specific genetic targets for patients suffering from a variety of hearing disorders
Swiss biopharma giant Novartis AG, among other companies, are investigating hearing loss drugs that use a range of approaches — from regenerative medicine, which seeks to engineer new human cells, to a gene-silencing technology called RNA interference to one-time gene therapy treatments that replace defective genes in the ear with healthy ones.
Other researchers are looking into ways to deliver hearing-restoration drugs to patients who already have cochlear implants, or to administer them through implants. But it’s too soon to tell whether either of those techniques will be feasible.

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