The effects of unilateral hearing loss on spatial hearing

Research

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Researchers at Oxford University’s Department of Physiology, Anatomy and Genetics recently published a review article and pointed out that unilateral hearing loss in infancy can disrupt spatial hearing, even after binaural inputs are restored, among other conclusions.

The ability of the auditory, vestibular and visual systems to compensate for changes in function have been widely documented. A new review of available research written by researchers in the United Kingdom has provided an overview into adaptive changes in the brain in the event of hearing loss.

Our sensory capacity to extract spatial information relies mainly on the detection and analysis of binaural cues by the brain. This involves detecting differences in the time of arrival of sound or the level of the sound between the two ears. After disruption of spatial hearing abilities in hearing loss, the authors report that plasticity in the developing brain enables substantial recovery in the accuracy of sound localization.

The authors of the article highlight two other key aspects. First, adaptation to unilateral hearing loss is based on reweighting of monaural spectral cues and binaural plasticity. And second, very importantly in terms of potential therapies for those affected with this condition, training on auditory tasks can partially compensate for unilateral hearing loss. Their review was recently published in the journal Hearing Research.

Source: Kumpik DP, King AJ. A review of the effects of unilateral hearing loss on spatial hearing. Hearing Research. 2018 Aug 11.

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