New Test Can Detect Hidden Hearing Loss

Dr. Maria Wynens, Au.D.Blog-post, Hearing Health, Hearing Loss

New Test Can Detect Hidden Hearing Loss
Dr. Maria Wynens, Au.D.
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New Test to Detect Hidden Hearing Loss?

Do you sometimes struggle to hear sounds around you, particularly in noisy settings? Have you visited an audiologist to test your hearing, only to be given a clean bill of health? You’re not alone. Many adults continue to struggle with hearing, even after hearing tests don’t show signs of hearing loss. With no diagnosis and no treatment options, this hidden hearing loss can quickly move beyond a simple annoyance and lead to difficulties in your work and home life.

What is Hidden Hearing Loss?

You know the feeling of temporary hearing loss when you leave the sports bar, or come out of that intense concert. Your ears are ringing, and it’s hard to hear. Everything around you sounds muffled, and you feel like your ears are stuffed with cotton balls. By the next day though your hearing is back to normal, so you’ve never been too worried. But what if that temporary hearing loss didn’t just go away, and damaged your hearing permanently?

When you’re hearing normally, sounds from the world around you vibrate against the hair cells of your inner ear. Here the sound waves are converted to electrical signals and are transmitted to the brain via the nerve cells. Hearing loss is often the result of damage to the hair cells in your ear, reducing your listening range and making it hard to hear soft sounds or high sounds. Traditional audiometry tests look for this narrowed listening range, and tests your hearing in terms of volume and frequency.

Hidden hearing loss is different. This hearing loss affects the nerve cells that communicate with the brain. You have trouble hearing in loud environments, and it’s hard for you to separate important sounds from unimportant noises. You hear sounds just fine, but not all the information is reaching the brain, which is why you feel like you are straining to hear. Fewer signals are being processed, but you do still have a wide range of hearing, and can hear soft sounds and high sounds. This is why traditional hearing tests don’t detect hidden hearing loss.

Testing for Hidden Hearing Loss

Hidden hearing loss is under-diagnosed. Adults who are worried about their hearing will take a hearing test, but sometimes get normal results. They’re sent home with no diagnosis and no treatment options. As their hearing worsens, they are less likely to seek further testing, and continue to live with debilitating hearing loss. Without treatment, they begin to have difficulty communicating at work and at home, and start to experience all the negatives of living with hearing loss.

Traditional hearing tests don’t catch hidden hearing loss, so researchers set out to create a new test to diagnose hidden hearing loss. Constantin Trahiotis and Leslie R. Bernstein, researchers in the Psychoacoustics Lab at the University of Connecticut, have done just that. They’ve been working to find a way to detect hearing loss that doesn’t register on a normal audiogram, that isn’t caused by damage to the hair cells. The test they created can diagnose hidden hearing loss that isn’t detected by traditional tests.

The secret to finding hidden hearing loss is testing across-ear, or binaural, hearing. The new test measures how easily you are able to hear binaural changes in sounds played at a normal volume. Bernstein and Trahiotis found that those with hidden hearing loss struggle with binaural processing, so this test is highly effective in diagnosing hidden hearing loss. Bernstein is excited with their progress, and says “we now have a validated technique to identify ‘hidden’ hearing deficits that would likely go undetected with traditional audiograms.”

Treating Hidden Hearing Loss

Hearing loss is even more common that we think, with millions of Americans struggling with hidden hearing loss. Many adults have trouble hearing, but aren’t diagnosed with hearing loss because of ineffective testing methods. With this new test, it will be possible to find traditional as well as hidden hearing loss, and ensure that those who need treatment are fitted for hearing aids so they can get back to hearing.

Don’t settle for living with hearing loss. Visit us at Atlanta Hearing Doctor today for a hearing test. We’ll test your hearing and provide excellent treatment options that match your hearing loss and lifestyle.

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