The inability to distinguish spatial cues is known as spatial hearing loss. People with spatial loss of hearing find it difficult to tell who is speaking in a noisy room or where a certain sound is coming from. This condition prevents sufferers from cutting out background noise in crowded places such as restaurants and airports. Interestingly enough, spatial hearing loss does not stem from the ear. The brain is actually the culprit – the pathways that interpret sound are the root of spatial loss of hearing.
Spatial loss of hearing is especially common in children as well as adults over the age of 60. However, it can occur in anyone, regardless of age. This can be especially frustrating for children in school – they find it hard to differentiate the teacher’s voice from other noises in class.
Audiologists are able to diagnose spatial hearing disorder with a test called the Listen in Spatialized Noise-Sentences, or LiSN-S, test. The LisN-S test determines how a person uses pitch and spatial cues in order to pick out certain sounds from background noise. This lets the audiologist determine just how severe the person’s loss of spatial hearing is.
Spatial hearing loss does not always occur on its own. It is quite often accompanied by high-frequency and/or low-frequency hearing loss. These issues can be treated with hearing aids, which helps with the spatial loss of hearing as well. However, for some people with spatial deficiencies, typical hearing aids may only make the problem worse.
Spatial hearing loss happens often in older people, due to the natural aging process and subsequent damage to the audio nerve. Some aging-related causes of spatial hearing loss include injury, medications, vascular problems, or other medical conditions. If you notice sudden hearing loss within a twenty-four to seventy-two hour window, seek medical attention right away. Some forms of sudden hearing loss can be helped if its treated right away. Causes can be blockage, illness, or infection–all of which respond well to early treatment. If the sudden loss of hearing is not identified and treated quickly and is caused by infection or another underlying condition, it may result in permanently damaged auditory nerve pathways, ending with permanent deafness or spatial hearing loss.
If you experience sudden changes such as a unilateral loss of hearing, you are also at an increased risk of spatial hearing loss and should seek attention immediately. If you’re not sure if your hearing is changing, you should go get it tested right away.