Hidden hearing loss

What is a hidden hearing loss? What are the symptoms, how is it diagnosed and how is it treated?

A hidden hearing loss is a type of hearing loss that cannot be measured by the most common hearing test. On suspicion of a hearing loss, the first step is to measure the hearing with an audiogram, but for people with hidden hearing loss, the audiogram looks as it does for someone with normal hearing. 

In the normal ear, the sound waves are transmitted through the middle ear bones to the inner ear, where they cause vibrations in the hair cells. These vibrations in the hair cells then transform the signals via the nerve cells into electrical pulses which are sent to the brain.

Cause of hidden hearing loss

Loud noise exposure can not only damage hair cells in your inner ear, but can also damage the ear’s nerve cells. When the nerve cells are damaged it is normally harder to pick out specific sounds in noisy places. 

With a hidden hearing loss the damage caused by noise is located in nerve cells that connect the cochlea in the inner ear to the brain. The nerve cells lose their connections with the hair cells, so they cannot send information to the brain.  As a result, the brain receives lesser and poorer information from the ear, and therefore it struggles to interpret the information correctly.

Symptoms of hidden hearing loss

A hidden hearing loss doesn’t normally affect a person’s ability to hear quiet sounds, but it makes it harder to hear sounds when there is competing background noise. That’s the symptom of a hidden hearing loss.

A hidden hearing loss cannot be measured with standard hearing tests or an online hearing test.

Hidden hearing loss could be significantly under-diagnosed. It is likely to affect younger people, who go to loud music concerts or spend time listening to loud music through headphones. People who have a hidden hearing loss when they are younger may suffer from more severe hearing loss when they get older.

Treatment of hidden hearing loss

What should I do if I have a hidden hearing loss? If you think you might have a hidden hearing loss you should visit a hearing health professional and tell them about your hearing problems. He or she can help to identify any hearing problems and help you treat your hearing loss.

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