Imagine the following scenario: You are in a rather noisy place—like a busy restaurant at peak dinnertime or a party packed with lots of people. You are with friends, enjoying a fun conversation. However, you notice that you are experiencing some difficulty clearly understanding what is being said. With all of the background noise, you’re having trouble hearing and understanding your friends.
Unfortunately, this can become a frustrating and embarrassing situation for you. If you aren’t able to hear the conversation well due to the background noise, you may have to ask your friends to repeat themselves or to speak louder. And when you feel like you’ve already asked them to repeat themselves or speak up a few times, you may feel too self-conscious to continue asking. In all, this can leave you feeling discouraged, frustrated, and isolated.
So, what do you do when you realize you are having trouble hearing? You go to a doctor, of course. If you start with your primary care physician, they will likely refer you to a hearing professional. When you visit your hearing healthcare professional, they will perform a hearing evaluation to determine your hearing ability. Since you have been experiencing difficulty hearing, you expect that your hearing evaluation will reveal some hearing loss, right?
But what if it doesn’t? What if your hearing evaluation comes back reporting that your hearing ability is normal? To compound the discouragement of realizing you are having difficulty hearing in noisy environments, you are now being told that your hearing ability is normal. According to the evaluation, you have no hearing loss—and therefore no treatment seems to be needed.
This is what happens in the case of “hidden hearing loss.” Hidden hearing loss, indicated by a normal audiogram but perceived hearing difficulty, occurs in approximately five to seven percent of patients with self-perceived hearing difficulties. Hidden hearing loss is also referred to as obscure auditory dysfunction, auditory processing disorders, and King-Kopetzky syndrome.
Hidden hearing loss can occur in patients of all ages, from children to adults. The condition can contribute to a wide range of difficulties, from children who are unable to hear well at school to adults who have hearing difficulties at work or in social situations.
While much research still remains to be conducted in this area, a recent study showed promising results in finding cochlear synaptopathy. As more research is carried out on the subject of hidden hearing loss, it is certain that more therapies, evaluations, and solutions will be presented to help those who struggle with this condition.
At our hearing healthcare practice, we believe that while hidden hearing loss may not yet be well understood, we will do what we can to continue investigating your situation if you suffer from perceived hearing difficulty. Further tests may be needed that could shed light on the cause of the hearing difficulty and could lead to a potential treatment or solution.
If you or a loved one has experienced difficulty hearing in a noisy environment, we encourage you to contact our hearing professionals today. We are happy to assist you.