OKC VeloCity | Hough Ear Institute, partners developing breakthrough treatments for hearing loss

Hough Ear Institute, partners developing breakthrough treatments for hearing loss

By Justin Tinder / Inside OKC / May 20, 2020

Oklahoma City’s Hough Ear Institute, a worldwide leader in research, teaching, and humanitarian efforts for people with hearing difficulties, has escalated its efforts to aid those facing new obstacles as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr. Richard Kopke, CEO of Hough Ear Institute (HEI), said people with hearing loss are facing new challenges as more and more people wear masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“Imagine reading a sentence with half of the words blacked out,” Kopke said. "Masks generate an extra layer of difficulty to those who do have a loss of hearing. Many important visual cues such as reading lips are almost impossible to distinguish.”

In addition to the protective masks, difficulties also arise with six-foot social distancing mandates. People with hearing loss may need to be closer than that to hear well.

“There are so many more visual cues that we teach outside of reading lips, such as recognizing facial expressions and the eyes, that are critical for interpreting sounds for people who have difficulty hearing," Kopke said. "Even the ear loops can be troublesome for people who wear hearing aids. Imagine wearing eyeglasses, a hearing aid, and a mask. I have yet to figure out a way to remove one without another coming off.”

Kopke said that he and his staff have been in talks with local volunteers about the production of masks that have a clear window around the lips.

Hough has spent the last two months providing tips revolving around better communication practices through virtual platforms such as Zoom, FaceTime, and others that are inclusive to those who face hearing difficulties. Those guidelines, also listed by The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), include:

  • Make time for introductions
  • Check to ensure proper lighting of the face
  • Keep your mouth unobstructed
  • Keep microphone muted when not talking
  • Don’t interrupt
  • Share screen
  • Record meetings
  • Use closed captions when available

 “We ask their patients to wait in their car before entering the clinic. Their temperatures are taken, and they do a quick questionnaire to tell us of their exposure to the virus,” Kopke said. “The actual in-person assessment is critical in determining what needs the patient is experiencing.”

Work at the Hough Ear Institute has taken a special focus this month with ASHA designating May as Better Hearing and Speech Month.

Justin De Moss, Chief Philanthropy Officer at HEI, said the treatment of the more than 60,000 Oklahomans who suffer from some form of hearing loss is at an important stage.

“We often don’t think about our hearing as young adults, but that is when we are creating the damage that might affect us later in life,” De Moss said. “This month will help us in our awareness campaigns and give us support as we reach others who share the same concern about advancing the cause of better hearing and speech. We continue to raise awareness of everyday loud noise exposure.”

In addition to guiding the clinics’ patients through the COVID-19 pandemic, HEI continues to be a leader in the industry with the most innovative techniques to restore hearing loss.

Kopke said that trials have begun on a pill known as NHPN-1010. If it clears the necessary measures with the FDA and continues to demonstrate effectiveness, it promises to be a breakthrough to combat noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) and tinnitus.

“We have been collaboratively performing extensive preclinical and clinical research of this therapy, Kopke said. “Thanks to generous research grants from the Department of Defense, our donors, and our investors, we hope to bring relief to millions of people worldwide who suffer from NIHL and cochlear implant trauma.”

With all the advances that the Hough Ear Institute has accomplished in the past and advances that are promised in the future, Oklahoma City continues to be home to a renowned hearing research institute whose impact is felt around the world.

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