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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Using the hearing-in-noise test as a screening tool for cochlear synaptopathy in student musicians Monette, Stéphanie


Objective: Recent studies in rodents show that noise exposure may cause permanent damage to inner hair cell synapses, even when hearing thresholds return to their baseline (Fernandez et al., 2015; Liberman et al., 2015). Emerging evidence indicates that similar damage may occur in humans (Liberman et al., 2016), and is known in the literature as cochlear synaptopathy (CS) or hidden hearing loss. CS would likely cause functional deficits in temporal coding and speech-in-noise (Furman, Kujawa & Liberman, 2013; Kumar et al., 2012). The objective of the current research was to compare the speech-in-noise performance of an at-risk group of student musicians to a control group of individuals with limited noise exposure. Method: The experimental group consisted of 20 student musicians (MAGE = 22.7, SD = 3, range =18-28). The control group was comprised of 22 students with normal hearing and limited noise exposure (MAGE = 21.9, SD = 2.5, range =18-27). Previous noise exposure was estimated using the Noise Exposure Structured Interview (NESI; Guest et al., 2018). The hearing-in-noise test (HINT; Nillson et al., 1994) and the random gap-in-noise test (RGDT; Keith, 2000) were administered to assess temporal and speech-in-noise perception abilities. A Bayesian multilevel linear model was used to investigate differences in HINT scores between groups and conditions. Results: The musician group showed higher estimated lifetime exposure than the control group. Differences were found between conditions of the HINT, but not between groups. No association was found between HINT-ITD and estimated lifetime noise exposure. Discussion: It is possible that the population studied did not have sufficient noise exposure to exhibit difficulties processing temporal stimuli. Given the current literature on CS in humans, strict inclusion criteria, broad research protocols and interdisciplinary collaborations are warranted. Future studies should focus on finding behavioral tests with good sensitivity and specificity to reliably diagnose CS in humans in older musicians.

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