In animal models, prolonged exposure (2 h) to high-level noise causes an irreparable damage to the synapses between the inner hair cells and auditory nerve fibers within the cochlea. Nevertheless, this injury does not necessarily alter the hearing threshold. Similar findings have been observed as part of typical aging in animals. This type of cochlear synaptopathy, popularly called "hidden hearing loss," has been a significant issue in neuroscience research and clinical audiology scientists. The results obtained in different investigations are inconclusive in their diagnosis and suggest new strategies for both prognosis and treatment of cochlear synaptopathy. Here we review the major physiological findings regarding cochlear synaptopathy in animals and humans and discuss mathematical models. We also analyze the potential impact of these results on clinical practice and therapeutic options.
Keywords: audiology; auditory assessment; cochlear synaptopathy; deafferentation; noise-induced hearing loss.