‘What?’ Hidden hearing loss may explain a lot

Reporter: Amy Oshier
Published: Updated:

Something you likely never heard of could be impacting your ability to interpret sound.

Hidden hearing loss is a relatively new term that may explain why you can’t hear in certain situations but do just fine in others.

It was becoming a familiar refrain: people showed up at Jack Adams’ Fort Myers audiology practice because they sensed something was wrong with their hearing.

“They really struggle to the point where they’re showing up in my office saying, ‘You got to help me because my quality of life has really been compromised by the fact that I don’t enjoy being social anymore because it’s so difficult for me to hear in noisy situations,'” Adams said. “And yet their hearing is tested as being normal.”

Hearing experts are seeing the same thing. But this hearing loss can’t be measured with standard equipment.

Adams introduced a new apparatus to his practice, Audiology Consultants of SW Florida.

“I recently acquired a new audiometer that allows me to test above 8,000 cycles per second, or 8,000 hertz, which is the normal test that we do from 250,” said Adams. “So I’m finding that a lot of people that are complaining of hidden hearing loss actually have some ultra high-frequency hearing loss.”

It may help to picture your hearing as a drawing. The most common frequencies are the basic outlines that give it shape. It’s the details that fully flesh out and give context to the image.

It’s the same with sound. People with hidden hearing loss miss the high frequencies. Without full range, they strain to understand conversations.

“That deficit helps explain why they would have more difficulty deciphering in a noisy environment. You need your whole frequency range because there are a lot of harmonics and overtones that fall into that ultra-high frequency range.”

The only prevention may be to protect yourself from intense noise. Loud or frequent exposures damage tiny hairlike cells in the ear that don’t grow back. Adams believes hearing aid manufacturers will be able to offer relief in the future.

“The more we learn about the ear and the brain and how we process information, [the more we] will come up with products that are capable of just picking out speech sounds,” said Adams.

The takeaway: Stay tuned.

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