Hidden hearing loss is real. Here's what you need to know

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Wednesday, October 11, 2023
Hidden hearing loss is real. Here's what you need to know
Hidden hearing loss is real. Here's what you need to know

You might be losing your hearing, even if your test results come back normal.

It's called hidden hearing loss - and there are ways to prevent it.

"So hidden hearing loss can occur due to noise exposure. Picture going to a rock concert and you come home and your ears are ringing that night. In the morning or the next day, things are fine," speech, language and hearing sciences professor Michael Heinz said. "We used to think that was fine, nothing happened to your ear, but we now know those connections to the auditory nerve fibers can be lost permanently as a result of that."

Heinz said an estimated one in eight Americans over the age of 18 have some form of hearing loss. However, a recent study suggests one in 10 people with normal hearing test results actually have hidden hearing loss.

"This can happen because the gold standard for testing hearing is called the audiogram, which really tests our sensitivity to soft sounds in a quiet room. But doesn't really capture our ability to understand speech and noise," Heinz explained.

This kind of hidden hearing loss makes so-called "cocktail party listening" difficult. That's when you are trying to listen to one person, while in a room where lots of other conversations are happening.

People with normal hearing can do this easily. However, it gets harder as you lose more auditory nerve fibers, either due to age or noise exposure.

Here are a few ways to prevent hidden hearing loss:

  • Protect your ears by using the lowest volume you can hear on your TV, speakers or headphones.
  • You should also wear protective earmuffs when using loud power tools or yard equipment.
  • If you go to a sporting event or concert, you can use special earplugs for as cheap as $20 that still allow you to hear.
  • Try to distance yourself from whatever is making the loudest sounds.

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