If you do a little digging through the history of medicine, some truly bizarre and puzzling treatments and “cures” can be found for a range of health problems. Before the methods of modern science were refined, doctors, healers, and so-called scientists experimented on their patients with strange and sometimes painful treatments. Humans seem to stop at nothing in their attempts to stymie the inevitable procession toward death. These futile attempts were not only ineffective in many cases. Some of them were incredibly painful, led to other unintended consequences, or, in the worst cases, resulted in premature death. Many of the more drastic therapies were used as desperate attempts to cure life-threatening diseases, but the bizarre attempts did not stop with the most serious diseases. Doctors and other practitioners throughout history have also devised strange “cures” for hearing loss, as well. Some of these were painful, others were disgusting, and still others seem to have been an elaborate ruse to fool patients into giving money and support. Let’s take a look at these false promises of a cure for hearing loss ranging from the distant past until the present day.
19th Century “Cures” for Hearing Loss
Although strange medieval therapies may have existed, as well, the historical record shows some strange attempts at curing hearing loss in the 19th Century. One of the most common therapies attempted to stimulate the nerves of the ear to respond to sound. Some of these stimulators were devices inserted into the ear canal that would vibrate in an attempt to wake up faulty nerves. Others used the method of “galvanism” to send electrical shocks through the ear canal in hope of stimulating a nervous response. The problem with each of these styles of ear nerve stimulator was that most forms of hearing loss do not in fact occur in the nervous system. The most common form of hearing loss is due to damage in the tiny hair-like cells of the cochlea, and nervous stimulus will not be effective to revive those damaged cells. Ludwig van Beethoven, the composer of such classics as the Eroica Symphony, even received the treatment of galvanism, as well as the use of oil earplugs and simply resting his ears, to no avail. Some other bizarre 19th Century cures included the use of artificial eardrums. These metal devices were painful and ineffective to cure hearing loss after all. One more strange and disgusting attempt at a cure was called blistering, whereby a doctor would literally cause a blister on the skin in hopes that the toxins causing hearing loss would be removed along with the pus. As you might imagine, none of these cures were effective to restore hearing ability.
Current “Cures” for Hearing Loss
Although these strange and futile attempts to cure hearing loss might seem like a lost relic of the pre-modern past, alternative healers continue to deliver false hope to those with hearing loss. Some people resort to blatant quackery in their attempted cures, including a hearing loss pill or hypnosis therapy. Others market devices that are not intended to cure or to treat hearing loss, such as Personal Sound Amplification Products, or PSAPs. These units are made to look like hearing aids, but in fact they work quite differently. Rather than targeting the missing ranges of hearing as hearing aids do, they raise the volume of the entire frequency spectrum, potentially causing additional damage rather than offering a cure. One more strange cure has been suggested: eating cheese! Though it might sound appealing at first glance, the chemical compound found in some cheeses that people hope to cure hearing loss, called D-methionine, occurs in such trace amounts that a lot of cheese would need to be consumed, something like five pounds. Enticing as that might be, the negative health effects of mass consumption of cheese truly outweighs the potential benefit of such a treatment.
Some experimental therapies are currently being researched to address hearing loss, including gene therapies, drug therapies, and stem cell therapies. Although many of these are promising, none has been successful for adult human ears at this time. For now, we will have to rely on hearing aids as the best treatment for hearing loss rather than a cure!