The term “hidden hearing loss” can refer to a person’s inability to discern and understand conversation in a noisy setting, such as a bar or restaurant. Also known as the “cocktail party effect,” it can be difficult to diagnose people who go to an audiologist complaining of hearing loss as they often score normally on an audiogram, the standard way to measure hearing function. In a recent New York Times article, writer Emma Yasinski discussed the science behind hidden hearing loss as well as potential strategies for better communication.

Related article: Researchers Find Traditional Hearing Tests Fail to Diagnose ‘Hidden Hearing Loss’

According to the article, a 2009 study with mice exposed to loud music showed damage to brain cells that help translate hair cell vibrations into chemical signals that can be interpreted by the brain; these cells encompass two neuron bundles, one of which responds to loud sounds, the other to quiet sounds. While the bundle responding to loud sounds often gets damaged first, the second bundle has to “pick up the slack,” often times resulting in a garbled interpretation of sound that is “overwhelmed by background noise.”

Hidden hearing loss is difficult to diagnose, experts say, and there isn’t yet a definitive test. Dr Stéphane Maison, an audiologist and researcher at Mass Eye and Ear hospital, advises “if you struggle to understand the conversation whenever the brunch table has more than a few guests, you might have it.” The Associated Press (AP) has published an online test but it shouldn’t take the place of a visit to an audiologist if you suspect hearing loss.

Though there’s currently no treatment to reverse hidden hearing loss, audiologists recommend asking people to repeat what they said more slowly and not just louder, for better clarity, and making sure background noise is in back of you, for example, by having a friend sit against the wall in a crowded restaurant while you face him or her. Other tools that can be helpful for improving clarity include directional microphones, frequency modulation systems, and/or Apple’s Live Listen feature.

To read the article in its entirety, click here.

Source: NY Times