Millions of patients are debilitated by hearing loss, mainly caused by degeneration of sensory hair cells in the cochlea. The underlying reasons for hair cell loss are highly diverse, ranging from genetic disposition, drug side effects, traumatic noise exposure, to the effects of aging. Whereas modern hearing aids offer some relief of the symptoms of mild hearing loss, the only viable option for patients suffering from profound hearing loss is the cochlear implant. Despite their successes, hearing aids and cochlear implants are not perfect. Particularly frequency discrimination and performance in noisy environments and general efficacy of the devises vary among individual patients. The advent of regenerative medicine, the publicity of stem cells and gene therapy, and recent scientific achievements in inner ear cell regeneration have generated an emerging spirit of optimism among scientists, health care practitioners, and patients. In this review, we place the different points of view of these three groups in perspective with the goal of providing an assessment of patient expectations, health care reality, and potential future treatment options for hearing disorders. Learning outcomes: (1) Readers will be encouraged to put themselves in the position of a hearing impaired patient or family member of a hearing impaired person. (2) Readers will be able to explain why diagnosis of the underlying pathology of hearing loss is difficult. (3) Readers will be able to list the main directions of current research aimed to cure hearing loss. (4) Readers will be able to understand the different viewpoints of patients and their relatives, health care providers, and scientists with respect to finding novel treatments for hearing loss. 2010 Elsevier Inc.
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