Melinda Beck, writing for the Wall Street Journal, examines hidden hearing loss, a condition where people have trouble understanding conversations in noisy situations. Beck looks at how it differs from traditional hearing damage, reporting that:
[T]here’s growing evidence that the causes of problems processing speech amid noise are different than the causes of problems hearing sound. Scientists believe exposure to loud noises can erode the brain’s ability to listen selectively and decode words, without causing traditional hearing damage. Difficulty understanding speech amid noise can set in long before traditional hearing loss.
The researchers at Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary who discovered hidden hearing loss in mice in 2009 have recently shown that damage occurs in humans as well. “Exactly how such damage, called cochlear synaptopathy, compromises the ability to understand speech amid noise isn’t fully understood,” writes Beck, but “researchers think cochlear synaptopathy may help explain tinnitus, the persistent buzzing or ringing some people hear, as well as hyperacusis, which is an increased sensitivity to unpleasant sounds such as a baby crying or a siren.”
Apparently many people who may have hidden hearing loss also have traditional hearing loss. Sadly, there isn’t enough information yet for hidden hearing loss to be part of routine diagnosis of hearing problems, but the research continues. Until then, audiologists suggest patients who have speech-in-noise difficulties consider hearing aids and other assistive listening devices.
Thanks to Charles Shamoon for the link.