Hearing loss is playing hide and seek

Exposure to loud noise followed by temporary hearing loss is a common occurrence for many people. After a few days, hearing appears to return to normal...but the hearing loss could just be hiding.

​​Exposure to loud noise followed by temporary hearing loss is a common occurrence for many people. After a few days, hearing appears to return to normal...but the hearing loss could just be hiding. We’re funding research to find out exactly what’s happening in the ear and its connections with the brain, and how in the future we might develop treatments.
It has long been thought that after someone is exposed to loud noise, like a rock concert, any hearing loss experienced would be temporary and will return to normal after a couple of days. Indeed, after loud noise exposure a person may still be able to hear quiet sounds, as detected by a standard hearing test, and appear not to have a hearing loss. However, recent evidence suggests that exposure to loud noise may in fact cause permanent damage to hearing nerve cells responsible for detecting loud (rather than quiet) sounds, which can’t be picked up by the standard hearing test.
This is hidden hearing loss.
One of the first steps to find treatments is to understand the mechanics of where and how loud music damages hearing. We’re funding Professor Susan Shore and Gabriel Corfas for the next two years to find out what might be happening.
They’ll look at inner ear structures called the ‘synapses’, which are connections between hair cells in the ear and the hearing nerve cells that carry sound information to the brain. The researchers will look at how loud noise damages connections between the ear and the brain, and makes it difficult to understand speech in louder environments.
The lab are currently looking at cells in the first part of the hearing brain that receives sound information after it leaves the ear. They’re working to understand how special cells detect the signals that are important for understanding speech in people with normal-hearing, and in people with hidden hearing loss due to loud noise exposure. With our funding, they will also investigate whether a chemical, which can restore damaged synapses in the cochlea, is able to repair these cells after loud noise has damaged them.
Why are we funding?
We don’t have a good understanding of hidden hearing loss. We know what causes it but not exactly what is happening in brain and its connections with the ear. This project will give us a much better understanding of hidden hearing loss, which could ultimately lead to the development of an effective treatment.
Hidden hearing loss affects a large number of people, and many younger people are at risk of developing it through exposure to recreational noise. We’re excited to be a part of research that could potentially protect or restore the hearing of millions of people.