Trouble listening in noisy rooms could mean 'hidden hearing loss'

Hearing loss patient Jeff Larcomb could pass a standard hearing test just fine. But he still could not figure out what others said while in a noisy room.

"It's impossible... As soon as there's competing sound, it's all mushed together," Larcomb said.

"I'm staring really intently at people and trying to follow their mouth and stuff like that," Larcomb continued. "It's just not normal behavior, right, and people are kind of like, 'What's this guy's deal?'"

The reason patients such as Larcomb struggled deciphering speech in noisy situations had been previously unexplained by audiologists.

New research has now named the condition hidden hearing loss.

"Hidden hearing loss... may very well explain a substantial number of these people who have trouble hearing in background noise," audiologist James Hall said.

Researchers studied young adults who may have regularly overexposed their ears to loud sounds and found that hidden hearing loss was associated with a disorder deep in the auditory system.

The condition may also play a role in tinnitus, an experience where some hear ringing in their ears.

Though not yet an official diagnosis, hidden hearing loss proves a promising start for frustrated patients.

"I'm really excited about that because what I think it does is it gives credence to the fact that this patient population exists," audiologist Gail Whitelaw said.

As the research is new, there is no targeted treatment or cure.

For now, audiologists said hearing aids can help in some cases, as can a greater personal awareness of the effect of background noise.

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