Are you having trouble hearing the people in your life? Do you find you have to ask “what?” more than ever before? Is this particularly a problem when you are in a loud and crowded environment? Even if you suspected that you have hearing loss and have had your ears tested, it can be easy for this type of hearing test to go undetected. This is called a “hidden” hearing loss and is a problem that can affect anyone.
What is hidden hearing loss?
Hidden hearing loss is a hearing loss that does not show up on a common audiogram test. During a traditional hearing test your hearing is tested in a soundproof room. The patient is asked to identify different tones and the direction and which ear they are present. The problem in identifying hidden hearing loss with this method is that it does not account for the brain’s ability to prioritize sound in loud environments. While the patient may not have any trouble hearing in the sound-controlled environment of an audiology office, out on the street full of noise there are a lot of factors that are traditionally unaccounted for.
With healthy hearing, the brain is able to hone in on the sounds that you want to hear like a conversation with your friend or family at a crowded restaurant. However, hidden hearing loss affects the brain making casual conversation at a noisy event a frustrating experience.
How common is hidden hearing loss?
While no one is quite sure how many people are dealing with hidden hearing loss, recent studies have sought to explore the prevalence of the condition. A study from the audiology clinic at Massachusetts Eye and Ear tested over 100,000 patients with complaints of trouble hearing in crowded places over a 16-year time span. 10% of those tested had normal audiograms which indicated that there was no hearing loss, even when the patient’s complained of trouble hearing.
What Causes Hidden Hearing Loss?
Researcher are still trying to understand what the causes of hidden hearing loss could be. While most agree that it is an issue that occurs in the brain rather than the ears, a study from the University of Michigan discovered a few possible causes. The study, led by Dr. Gabriel Corfas, director of the Kresge Hearing Research Institute at Michigan Medicine’s department of otolaryngology found that one cause of hidden hearing loss could be a disruption the Schwann cells in the brain. Schwann cell create myelin, which is responsible for insulating the neural pathway that runs from the ears to the brain. When this natural insulation breaks down, the brain struggles to receive auditory signals making the comprehension of speech in a noisy environment challenging.
Another theory that Dr. Corfas’s team suspect contributes to hidden hearing loss, focused on the breakdown of the brain’s synapse that connect the cells of the inner ear to neurons which transmit sound to the brain. As the amount of the brain’s available synapse diminish, it becomes a struggle to hear, as sound cannot reach the brain. While people with this condition may have no problem at all hearing in quiet environments, they will struggle to hear when forced to prioritize sounds amongst noise, due to less healthy synapses devoted to hearing.
Risk Factors that Lead to Hidden Hearing Loss
Doctor Corfas’s team suspect that exposure to noise is one of the biggest factors that contribute to hidden hearing loss. The research team found that hidden hearing loss put people of all ages at risk. These dangers and risks of developing this condition is heightened due to the ever-rising levels of noise pollution we are exposed to in urban and suburban environments. Loud traffic and construction, noisy home appliances, lawnmowers, personal listening devices and more can contribute to the development of hidden hearing loss in people of all ages. Another contributing factor may be aging as we tend to lose some synapses as we age.
Dealing with your hidden hearing loss
If your audiogram tested negative but you still struggle to hear in crowded places don’t hesitate to contact us. We have strategies to diagnose your hidden hearing loss and help you find the best hearing aids to keep you engaged in a crowd so you don’t miss a thing.