What Is Hidden Hearing Loss?

Hearing loss detection and available solutions have grown in leaps and bounds, but a phenomenon known as “hidden hearing loss” remains an audiological mystery to a large degree. Fortunately, new theories about what it is and what causes it, in addition to new technologies to address it, are finally bringing some answers and relief to the many people struggling with its challenges.

What It Is

Hidden hearing loss is not detectable by most hearing tests. While the familiar beeps and tones of traditional hearing tests might be perfectly audible to people with hidden hearing loss, they often struggle to hear speech in noisy environments. In addition to struggling with group interactions and loud public places, those with hidden hearing loss have to cope with the frustration of repeatedly acing hearing tests when they know they are not imagining their difficulties.

Why It’s Hard to Detect

Traditional hearing tests are designed to detect injury to the physical apparatuses of the inner ear, such as the cilia and auditory nerves, which carry sound signals to the brain. Those with hidden hearing loss don’t display such ear damage, and it is thought that the problem might be with the synapses that accept the information and convey it for interpretation. Especially in children, the problem is often misdiagnosed as ADHD or auditory processing disorder, so it is important to find a specialist in hidden hearing loss if you suspect that you are or your child is struggling with it. While synapse loss or damage is not yet directly detectable, new tests are being developed that can detect the manifestations of such synaptic damage.   

What You Can Do

First, know that you are not alone. Since it often goes unrecognized and untreated, hidden hearing loss can lead to social withdrawal, but a health care professional who is familiar with the problem will be able to suggest ways to cope with the social effects of the condition. Learning to avoid noisy restaurants and large group situations is one strategy, but not always practical for those who regularly attend meetings or work in loud environments.

Thanks to rapid technological advancements, there are now various tools available to assist with hearing in noisy environments. Many hearing aids now have “speech in noise” settings and captioning apps are getting better by the minute. For those who are not yet ready for hearing aids—or as an extra layer of hearing assistance for those who already use MFi hearing aids—Noopl is a useful tool for restaurants, meetings and airports, allowing you to hear through noise with AirPods Pro.

If you suspect you have hidden hearing loss, speak to your doctor about how to find an audiologist trained in the specifics of the problem. While the condition is still “hidden,” it is no longer invisible to professionals.

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