What is hidden hearing loss?

If you can pass a hearing test with flying colors but have trouble making out what your friends say in a noisy restaurant, you could have hidden hearing loss. Deciphering speech in background noise is one of the most significant issues for people with ordinary hearing loss, and it’s often the most common sign of hidden hearing loss.

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What is hidden hearing loss?

It’s not clear exactly how many people have the condition. Studies show that 10 to 15% of patients who think they have hearing difficulties end up with normal scores on their audiogram.1,2 Researchers believe that these patients may suffer from hidden hearing loss.

A Likely Cause of Hidden Hearing Loss

For years, scientists have known that damage to tiny hair cells in our ears causes ordinary hearing loss. However, researchers discovered in 2009 that loud noise could damage the synapses that connect those hair cells with nerve cells in the inner ear, leading to hidden hearing loss.

In the study, mice were exposed to 100-decibel noise for two hours. The hair cells in their ears remained intact, but 50% of their synapses were missing.3 The loss of these synapses prevents the nerve cells from sending complete sound signals to the brain. As a result, the brain receives incomplete information and struggles to understand speech in background noise.   

Take Steps To Protect Your Hearing

Hidden hearing loss is often the result of noise exposure; meaning, you can prevent it. If you use portable music players with headphones, turn down the volume and take listening breaks. Try to position yourself away from the speaker system at concerts. And when operating a leaf blower or lawnmower, always wear hearing protection. 

Suspect you may have hidden hearing loss? Schedule an appointment today!


1 Parthasarathy, A. et al. (2020, January 21). Bottom-up and top-down neural signatures of disordered multi-talker speech perception in adults with normal hearing. https://elifesciences.org/articles/51419

2 Spankovich, C. et al. (2018, February). Self-reported hearing difficulty, tinnitus, and normal audiometric thresholds, the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 1999-2002. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29254853/

3 The Hearing Review. (2020, January 22). 'popular science' article explores causes of hidden hearing loss. https://hearingreview.com/hearing-loss/hearing-disorders/mixed/hidden-hearing-loss

Marni Novick, Audiologist in Los Gatos, CA

Dr. Marni Novick

Founder & Audiologist

Marni Novick, AuD, is founder of Silicon Valley Hearing, Inc., which opened its doors in 2014, with the promise of delivering honest and affordable hearing health care, along with exceptional customer service to her valued patients.

About Dr. Novick

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