Predicting neural deficits in sensorineural hearing loss from word recognition scores

Sci Rep. 2022 Jun 23;12(1):8929. doi: 10.1038/s41598-022-13023-5.


The current gold standard of clinical hearing assessment includes a pure-tone audiogram combined with a word recognition task. This retrospective study tests the hypothesis that deficits in word recognition that cannot be explained by loss in audibility or cognition may reflect underlying cochlear nerve degeneration (CND). We collected the audiological data of nearly 96,000 ears from patients with normal hearing, conductive hearing loss (CHL) and a variety of sensorineural etiologies including (1) age-related hearing loss (ARHL); (2) neuropathy related to vestibular schwannoma or neurofibromatosis of type 2; (3) Ménière's disease; (4) sudden sensorineural hearing loss (SSNHL), (5) exposure to ototoxic drugs (carboplatin and/or cisplatin, vancomycin or gentamicin) or (6) noise damage including those with a 4-kHz "noise notch" or reporting occupational or recreational noise exposure. Word recognition was scored using CID W-22 monosyllabic word lists. The Articulation Index was used to predict the speech intelligibility curve using a transfer function for CID W-22. The level at which maximal intelligibility was predicted was used as presentation level (70 dB HL minimum). Word scores decreased dramatically with age and thresholds in all groups with SNHL etiologies, but relatively little in the conductive hearing loss group. Discrepancies between measured and predicted word scores were largest in patients with neuropathy, Ménière's disease and SSNHL, intermediate in the noise-damage and ototoxic drug groups, and smallest in the ARHL group. In the CHL group, the measured and predicted word scores were very similar. Since word-score predictions assume that audiometric losses can be compensated by increasing stimulus level, their accuracy in predicting word score for CHL patients is unsurprising. The lack of a strong age effect on word scores in CHL shows that cognitive decline is not a major factor in this test. Amongst the possible contributions to word score discrepancies, CND is a prime candidate: it should worsen intelligibility without affecting thresholds and has been documented in human temporal bones with SNHL. Comparing the audiological trends observed here with the existing histopathological literature supports the notion that word score discrepancies may be a useful CND metric.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Audiometry, Pure-Tone
  • Hearing Loss, Conductive
  • Hearing Loss, Sensorineural*
  • Humans
  • Meniere Disease*
  • Presbycusis*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Speech Perception* / physiology