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Hidden Hearing Loss? Effects of Recreational Sound Exposure on Auditory Function

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Our recent studies assessing young-adult college student cohorts from diverse geographic regions have failed to detect statistically significant relationships between various audiometric measures and self-reported recreational noise exposure history. All studies collected retrospective cross-sectional data; in addition, a subset of subjects were followed prospectively to assess potential auditory effects of new loud recreational activities. Testing has included tympanometry, pure-tone detection thresholds, word-in-noise identification tests, distortion product otoacoustic emission (DPOAE) amplitude, and auditory brainstem response (ABR) amplitude measurements. There have been no reliable relationships between self-reported recreational noise history and auditory function in young adult populations from Nashville (Tennessee), Gainesville (Florida), and Dallas (Texas). In a single study assessing changes in function following loud recreational event exposures, temporary word-in-noise deficits were detected as a function of increasing noise exposure dose, but ABR amplitude was unchanged. Taken together, temporary changes in function have largely been restricted to changes on the word-in-noise test and no permanent deficits have been observed in association with recreational sound exposure. These data contrast with other reports including musicians and firearm users as subjects. A major ongoing challenge to the field is the lack of consensus on specific functional tests.

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