Have you ever wondered if you have hearing loss? Your hearing seems okay most of the time, and it’s always fine at home, but when you’re out with friends for Sunday brunch or happy hour, hearing becomes a real problem. You’ve read about the signs of hearing loss, like having difficulty hearing in noise, so you went for a hearing test only to be told there’s nothing wrong with your hearing. You can’t hear clearly in all situations, and you want help, but haven’t been given any treatment options. What’s going on? It’s possible you’re suffering from hidden hearing loss.
What Is Hidden Hearing Loss?
Hidden hearing loss is a kind of hearing loss that’s hard to detect because it is hearing loss caused by damage to the neurons in your brain, not damage to the cells in your ears. The ears are picking up all the sounds just fine, and your brain is processing them, but there’s a breakdown in the journey between the ears and the brain.
What causes hidden hearing loss? There are several theories. Until recently, hidden hearing loss was ascribed to damage in the neural pathway that carries the signals from your ears to your brain for processing. This neural damage explains why hidden hearing loss doesn’t show up in traditional tests for hearing loss. In quiet environments, such as a soundproof space where you might have taken your hearing test, the cells in your ear pick up sounds accurately, convert the sound waves into electrical impulses, and the functioning neurons carry these signals to the brain.
The problem arises in noise. With damaged neurons, the remaining working neurons cannot handle all the extra signals coming at your ears from all sides, and you aren’t able to focus on the sounds you want to hear.
A 2nd Cause of Hidden Hearing Loss
In a recent study published in Nature Communications, researchers at the University of Michigan have uncovered another cause of hidden hearing loss. They found that sometimes even those with no damage to the neural pathway still experience hidden hearing loss. How is this possible?
Working on the same principle that too much sound information is the problem, they found that hidden hearing loss can also be caused by damage to the myelin cells which insulate the neural pathway. These cells are like oil in the engine. They insulate the neural pathway, and speed up the transmission of signals between the ear and the brain. With damaged myelin cells, the neurons aren’t fast enough to process all the information in challenging listening environments, creating hidden hearing loss.
Noise Induced Hearing Loss
For those who are constantly exposed to high levels of noise, there are greater risks of developing hidden hearing loss. All the strain placed on the auditory system can lead to damage to neural or myelin cells, creating hearing loss. Children and teens are particularly at risk, since they are exposed to dangerously loud noise levels from headphone use, noisy school gyms, and loud concert halls and sports venues. For those who already have hidden hearing loss, further exposure to noise can be adding to their hearing loss, compounding the problem.
Protect Your Hearing
Whether you suffer from noise induced hearing loss or hidden hearing loss, it’s important to always protect your hearing in excessive noise, and teach your children to do the same. If you can’t comfortably hear the person speaking at a normal volume next to you, it’s loud enough to be causing permanent damage. Restrict headphone use to an hour at a time, and make sure the volume isn’t turned up too high. We recommend you always carry a pair of ear plugs in your bag, so you’ll always be prepared if it gets too loud.
Treating Hidden Hearing Loss
As with age-related or noise-induced hearing loss, there are no permanent fixes to hidden hearing loss. Once your hearing is lost, it’s gone forever. What you can do is visit us at Atlanta Hearing Doctor for a hearing test to determine what kind of hearing loss you have, and how severe it is.
Don’t miss out on the important conversations, and enjoy easy communication in any crowded restaurant. We’ll help you pick out a hearing device that fits your needs, lifestyle, and personality, a sleek hearing aid with all the settings and programs you need to hear the sounds around you, in quiet or in noise.