Noise exposure is the main cause of preventable hearing loss worldwide. Noise exposure occurs in the workplace, such as in noisy factories, and recreationally, through the use of personal music players and attendance at nightclubs and live music events.
It had been assumed that hearing loss results mainly from damage to the sensory hair cells in the cochlea, the part of the ear that converts acoustic vibrations into electrical impulses in the auditory nerve. However, recent results from animal studies suggest that moderate noise exposure can cause substantial damage to the auditory nerve, even when the hair cells are unaffected. The results suggest that such damage is not detectable by standard diagnostic procedures; however, it may affect hearing ability on important tasks such as identifying speech in noisy environments, and musical pitch perception. Our research programme is far-reaching, involving three internationally renowned institutions in the UK (The University of Manchester, University of Nottingham) and US (Purdue University), and a wide range of scientific methodologies. Headed by researchers in the Audiology and Deafness Research Group, The University of Manchester, this five-year Medical Research Council-funded project will determine the physiological basis of hidden hearing loss, the prevalence of hidden loss in young adults, and the impact of hidden loss on everyday hearing. The research will also provide an initial investigation of diagnostic tools for future detection of this hearing condition, which could affect millions of people in the UK alone.