Hidden Hearing Loss: The Unexpected Threat

Monday 17th April, 2017

Are you leaning into a conversation and asking people to repeat what they said when you are in a noisy setting? Do you have a constant ringing in your ears? If so, you may have hidden hearing loss.

This is the news from Harvard researcher M. Charles Liberman. He conducted extensive studies with animals and found that over time when exposed to loud noises, it is possible to lose the ability to hear in noisy environments even though audiogram test normal.

This is due to the hair cells in your ear that transmit the sounds to the brain losing many of their synapses when exposed to loud noises such as rock concerts, lawn mowers, power tools, etc. Although you can lose more than half of these synapses without it affecting a hearing test, you will notice the difference when trying to listen to a conversation in a noisy place.

Liberman’s research included a group of 34 college students aged 18 to 41. He classified them according to their exposure to loud noises. The study showed that the high-risk group (those exposed to loud noises on a regular basis) had difficulty understanding speech in a noisy situation, and they also performed worse on the laboratory tests.

The good news, however, is that Liberman is also working on a drug that will help regrow the synapses that are lost as a result of noise. It is still far from completed research, but it gives people with hidden hearing loss cause for hope.

As a precaution, Liberman now also wears earplugs when he is mowing the lawn as he has noticed that his hearing is also deteriorating. His studies are far from complete, and the human testing needs to be repeated and expanded, but the message is loud (pardon the pun) and clear: stay away from loud noises.



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