Do you Hear me? How to Detect Hidden Hearing Loss

Every day we receive an immense number of sound signals from the world around us. These sounds vary from low to high-intensity ones, some are quiet and smooth, while others are loud and sharp, some are what we hear on a regular basis, and some may be new to us. In all their diversity, they are mostly safe for us to hear and comfortable to process. But what happens in case they aren’t?

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Hidden hearing loss is a condition that causes inability to process certain sounds. This issue is a hard one to diagnose, because it doesn’t usually get detected by regular hearing tests, which leads to lack of relevant statistical data on the problem.

What happens to our ears when we develop hidden hearing loss?

Normally, the sounds we hear get transferred from our middle-ear to inner-ear to the so-called hair cells that start to vibrate when they receive a sound, thus turning it into electrical impulses heading directly for our brain, where the chain ends with it receiving the signal and making its ‘registration’ and processing through.

However, long-time or long-period exposure to loud sounds (85 decibels and higher, starting from heavy city traffic ones) can damage the hair cells, causing troubles with transfer of signals. At the same time, this remains immeasurable in an audiogram, a regular hearing testing that people usually get, because it is not sensitive enough to detect hair cells’ dysfunction. A person thus gets a result that says they are medically healthy.

How does hidden hearing loss manifest itself?

A person with hidden hearing loss may start having trouble getting someone’s speech in places with significant background noise (which is any situation of travelling somewhere with people one talks to in a big city). They also may be unable to pick certain low-volume sounds and some frequencies. Add to this being seemingly healthy and anxiety of a dichotomy when such a person actually experiences hearing issues on a daily basis.

What to do if I think I have hidden hearing loss?

First and foremost, limit exposure to loud sounds as much as possible. For rock concert fans and amateurs of listening to music on the highest volume this may be a particularly hard challenge, but it’s definitely worth the effort. Also, start using ear protection whenever possible. Unfortunately, current standards of noise regulation have not been revisited for a long time, so unless companies’ management and government officials start doing that anytime soon we have no other options but to take the measures we can take ourselves.

Is there a treatment for hidden hearing loss?

There has been some success in reversing the condition in mice. A study has shown that injecting the animals with a substance called neurotrophin-3 can reverse the damage caused by overexposure to loud sounds. But while researchers hope that this may be the way to go with, the method has not been tested and proven effective in humans yet, leaving no current immediate treatment at the moment.

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