Right-Ear Advantage for Speech-in-Noise Recognition in Patients with Nonlateralized Tinnitus and Normal Hearing Sensitivity
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Despite having normal hearing sensitivity, patients with chronic tinnitus may experience more difficulty recognizing speech in adverse listening conditions as compared to controls. However, the association between the characteristics of tinnitus (severity and loudness) and speech recognition remains unclear. In this study, the Quick Speech-in-Noise test (QuickSIN) was conducted monaurally on 14 patients with bilateral tinnitus and 14 age- and hearing-matched adults to determine the relation between tinnitus characteristics and speech understanding. Further, Tinnitus Handicap Inventory (THI), tinnitus loudness magnitude estimation, and loudness matching were obtained to better characterize the perceptual and psychological aspects of tinnitus. The patients reported low THI scores, with most participants in the slight handicap category. Significant between-group differences in speech-in-noise performance were only found at the 5-dB signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) condition. The tinnitus group performed significantly worse in the left ear than in the right ear, even though bilateral tinnitus percept and symmetrical thresholds were reported in all patients. This between-ear difference is likely influenced by a right-ear advantage for speech sounds, as factors related to testing order and fatigue were ruled out. Additionally, significant correlations found between SNR loss in the left ear and tinnitus loudness matching suggest that perceptual factors related to tinnitus had an effect on speech-in-noise performance, pointing to a possible interaction between peripheral and cognitive factors in chronic tinnitus. Further studies, that take into account both hearing and cognitive abilities of patients, are needed to better parse out the effect of tinnitus in the absence of hearing impairment.
Keywordssignal-to-noise ratio loss QuickSIN left-ear disadvantage bilateral tinnitus
The authors would like to thank Anthony Tsao for assisting with data collection and Dr. Sa Shen for providing advice on aspects of the statistical analysis. We are deeply grateful to Dr. Richard Tyler for his insightful comments on earlier versions of this manuscript.
The study was supported in part by the Department of Defense, award number W81XWH-15-2-0032 (PI: Husain) and a Center for Wounded Veterans in Higher Education (UIUC) seed grant (PI: Husain).
Compliance with Ethical Standards
Conflict of Interest
The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.
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