Over the past year, I have been going through a painfully slow process of having tests and results to try and find out what is wrong with my hearing. I seem to suffer the inverse of “cocktail party syndrome” and when in a room with too much background noise – I effectively end up deaf.

The first series of tests and reports from doctors couldn’t find anything physically wrong, and the last doctor I saw agreed to refer me further after I pointed out that the graphs/MRI may say nothing is wrong but there most certainly is a problem.

In actual fact, it seems that I have excellent hearing in physical terms – but I just can’t hear people when there is too much background babble – it all merges into a white noise and I can’t isolate the person standing next to me from the background noise.

Anyhow, yesterday I went for the referral which is basically the final point to go – and at last – someone has identified a problem.

I’ve persisted in trying to get this resolved one way or the other as it is an incredible social handicap. I can’t hear people in even the most ordinary of pubs and trying to go to a music venue is frankly pointless. When standing in a group of friends, I often drift to the edge and just stand there bored silly waiting for a suitable excuse to go home. Indeed, I have been told off for doing that – even though it is frankly the only thing I can do in the circumstances.

It can be somewhat depressing at times, and as a single chap it would be nice to be able to approach people without the worry that I might spend the whole evening saying “pardon” to every other sentence!

Despite the tests showing very good hearing, I do have a slight drop off at the high frequencies, and although not that serious – it does explain the problem I have – which has been termed Auditory Processing Disorder (APD). Apparently this issue was first diagnosed about 40 years ago, and while no one is really sure what causes it, it is thought to affect up to 10% of the adult population and is not generally age related.

Also, alas – there is no cure.

There are treatments of sorts – but they are more based around learning to live with the issue than actually treated it in the usual means.

Many people with this issue report one side is worse than the other – and I do sit to the left of people where possible as my left side is worse (that showed up in the graphs), but it seems that I should try to face the person as I need more visual clues to help fill in the missing detail in the speech. I was once accused of lip-reading when people talk to me, and what was an unconscious act may have to become something I practice more proactively in future.

There are a few other ideas, but mainly – I just need to avoid noisy environments.

Alas, as most social environments tend to be quite noisy (even when the music is turned down), this will prove to be difficult.

So, at the end of the road as far as hearing tests are concerned, and while there is nothing that can be done medically to help – at least I know there is an identifiable problem and it is not just my imagination that all this is happening.

It is a relief to know I am not alone in this – even if there isn’t a huge amount that can be done about it.


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  1. Tom says:

    Ah ha! I didn’t realise it has a name.
    I had a series of tests about 10 years ago, with the final diagnosis of “Obscure Auditory Dysfunction”, which I took to mean “not a clue, sorry”.

    I sympathise – I find social events in the evening quite awkward.

    • Kerry Gough says:

      Bless you! I have it too, it’s such a relief to be able put a name to it and know that you are not going completely barking. As a child I used to liken myself to Enid Blyton’s Tin Pan Man in the Magic Faraway Tree as I would always hear conversations incorrectly and get the wrong end of the stick.

      Strangely, I quite enjoy it now. I am just very up front about it and make sure that people look at me when they are talking as it seems that I have ‘learnt to lip read’ as a result of a life-time of being a little out of it. If you take it with a bit of humour, I ‘create’ some strange conversations, so I just tell people what I thought I heard and have a laugh about it.

      It’s never going to go, so I am learning to love it.

  2. Sorry to hear there’s nothing more that can be done.

    Trying to put a positive spin on things, my eyes are drawn to the claim that up to 10% of the adult population suffer from this condition to some degree.

    If you have struggled to put a name to it and to identify workable techniques for dealing with it, we can assume almost everybody else will have failed, too.

    Some well-chosen keywords driving traffic to a well-designed website full of advice may well prove lucrative…

    I also can’t help thinking that a book called “how to hold a conversation in a noisy room” would sell quite a few copies 🙂

  3. IanVisits says:

    Trust you to see a financial angle in my suffering 😉

  4. Tina from Surrey says:

    Hello Ian, Came across your site by way of Diamond Geezer, and like your photos and observations, although I don’t usually comment. I am partially deaf (discovered at age 58, after suffering for about 5 years) and even with my super duper NHS hearing aids, find it virtually impossible to follow a conversation at a party or gathering if it’s noisy. I usually just nod and smile and say ‘Oh Yes’ a lot and people think I’m being attentive and a good listener. It’s a nuisance, but you get used to it.

  5. Ray Butler says:

    Really enjoyed reading about your hearing problem – I have had the exact same problems for years and recently succumbed to having a hearing test – I was amazed to be told that my hearing was “perfectly normal” and that my symptoms were classic obscure auditory dysfunction – and that nothing could be done to help – so I googled this and read all about it – I also stumbled on your blog – it made me chuckle to hear about someone else using the same tactics as myself for social events (which I normally try to avoid) – I am lucky that I am married (for the last 37 years) – she talked me into going for the hearing test and still thinks I am deaf as a post.

    All the best for the future

  6. Hearing Aids says:

    I can’t personally relate to what you went through, but my uncle had Otitis Media, but because his primary physician didn’t diagnosis it correctly (told him to use some ear drops and come back in 2 weeks if it persists) and use a correct treatment, he eventually lost his hearing. I’m glad that you brought up APD though: I have met some people with this ailment while going to some of my uncle’s ENT physician appointments. This would shed in some light to those who may be living with some of the symptoms and don’t even realize it.

  7. Paul O'Connor says:

    I have the same problem and as a result I have recently had a few issues at work recently. Luckily I am married but this only came about because my wife did not speak a word of English when we first met!

    I do not go out to any crowded events, I can cope for an hour but after that I just can’t deal with it anymore and like you – I just want to go home.

    I am OK on a one to one basis, but get me in a crowd and it’s just not good.

    I was a year behind at School and bottom of the C stream and was forecast to get zero O’Levels – at a private school! So I told my House Master that I would not attend any classes in my final term and that I would work on my own.

    Presto – I got 7 O’Levels and nobody could believe it. If I knew that I had a problem I could of got 20 O’Levels at a breeze.

    My Father was an excellent Opthalmic Surgeon, I now know that if I did not have this condition, I could have been a Doctor or god knows what. I’ve not done bad but it took me until I was 24 before I even understood that people could hear others talking two rows down the table or across the room. I had no idea I had a real problem or at least I could not identify the cause. I have had my hearing tested and guess what I am normal – you think!

  8. Jennifer Stephen says:

    i have just found out that i have oad. Im 21 and have no clue how to deal with what i’ve got. Im not one to to give up so was wondering if anyone can offer me any suggestions

  9. Anne Grieve says:

    Hi, I have also only just been diagnosed with OAD. I am very glad there is no physical problem with my hearing and also that the problem isn’t ‘in my head’ – but is ‘in my head’ if you see what I mean. The consultant I saw was very nice, explained the condition, said it was fairly normal and I wouldn’t be the only person he would see that afternoon with this condition. He said he could refer me to an audiologist who specialises in this condition. I said he might as well but knowing that there is no cure as such. I think this explains a lot about my personality and helps me understand things, like at work we often have the radio on and I feel ‘out of the loop’ when co-workers are gossiping / talking and am seen as a bit of a loner, now it’s obvious it’s not that im not interested I just can’t hear what people are saying to respond!

  10. Andrew Lake says:

    I have suffered fom this problem for as long as I can remember. It is a real social handicap and so frustrating because I like to be out with friends etc. I had a hearing test some fifteen years ago and it was found that my hearing was excellent and they never really sorted out what it was. Decided to have another crack and this week went to hospital for a hearing test. Result – hearing is well above average across all frequencies and I was told that I may well have ADP (auditory processing disorder) – apparently they can give you therapy (learning listening skills which help you to filter out the background noise I think) and I was given a letter to take back to my GP for the possibility of another referral for this. I’m not sure about this though – learning how to listen sounds a bit weird!!

    The main text above made me smile because it is so familiar to me. I can find it very embarrasing with new people in noisy backgrounds because they basically just think you are an idiot. Even with people who understand your problem it can become annoying for both of you – who wants to have a conversation that is such an effort? Also sometimes have problems if using the telephone and with accents as well!

    Maybe people with APD could form there own group – can you imagine what the social events would be like!!

  11. Mark says:

    I`m 25 years old and I’ve had the same problem as you guys for as long as I can remember. All the hearing tests I’ve take say that I have perfect hearing, still I have problems understanding what people are saying whenever there’s background noise. That is really frustrating. I always hoped that it was just my imagination, as the tests never indicated a problem.

    Recently I took another test, where they tested my understanding of spoken sentences in background noise. Now I finally have official confirmation that despite perfect hearing I have problems understanding speech in background noise. Now I at least know that it was not just my imagination all those years. Unfortunately there seems to be nothing I can do to improve my speech-hearing ability. That really sucks. So I will have to continue trying not to get so frustrated whenever I don’t understand what people are saying at parties, in the cafeteria, in the subway, etc. 🙁

  12. Catherine says:

    I too have this condition, and while I’m sorry to hear that you suffer from it, I’m secretly glad someone else knows my pain! I have few friends, as like you said, there is little point in going to pubs and clubs, where unfortunately most people my age (22) socialize.

    Like a few other people have said on here, I apparently have perfect hearing, I just can’t hear what people say! I think unless you have a condition like this it’s difficult to understand just how debilitating it is, as it affects absolutely everything you do. In fact, just this morning I went to a doctor because I thought it was getting worse, and was told to ‘get on with my life and stop wasting everybody’s time.’ Most unhelpful.

    Anyway, just wanted to say thank you for letting me know I’m not alone.

  13. Natalie Buttress says:

    Hi all. I’m an audiologist from South Africa and am surprised at how few professionals seem to know about OAD. I have known and worked with it for 17 years. To give you all hope: modern hearing instruments with directional microphone technology offer signal in noise ratio benefits, even if set at very low levels of amplification (particularly important with normal hearing thresholds. In addition, fm systems, which can be worn on the ear and offer a separate microphone that can be placed in the middle o a table of close friends, may allow people with OAD to minimise noise in a party or restaurant. It isn’t a perfect solution socially, but since sufferers cannot participate in a group, it offers an alternative to being left out entirely.

  14. kat says:

    I have been reading about ‘new’ digital hearing aids. apparently they can turn down the volume of background noise, and amplify primary noise e.g. conversation. perhaps this could help?

  15. Jessica says:

    After all these years I’ve finally found out what is wrong with me! I’ve had some really bad times and very unsuccessful dates because of this problem, I just can’t catch what people are saying and ended up looking a right idiot if I nod or smile at the wrong moment :0( Hey ho. Maybe other people arent that interesting anyway and no cheezy chat up lines, On the upside I now belong to an exclusive 10% of the population :0D

  16. Sarah says:

    Thank you! I’ve had a problem all my life with this. I’m now 49. I have the same problem of not being able to communicate in noisy environments or with background music or talking. Also I often can’t hear the words in songs or during films. I’m afraid I also have problems with accents of all kinds. I had to ask a waitress in a cafe to repeat herself several times this week. You feel such a fool. I am so, so glad it’s real, I thought it was just me! I’m sorry that you all have the same problem though.

    • Linda Dobson says:

      I’m 57 yrs old and for as long as I can remember,I have struggled having conversations and understanding things as soon as I’ve been told,(i’m ok if given the chance to digest the information ) but was only diagnosed with OAD about 6 yrs ago after constantly being told to “go and get your ears syringed “or “are you deaf”.or “the light’s on but nobodys in”.Well,after a series of tests at my local hearing therapy unit,I found out that not only had I got “exceptional” hearing but I had also got a brain dysfunction (OAD) that affected my ability to process information.
      At last an answer as to why I had struggled for years.My hearing therapist told me that if people knew I had a brain disorder then the onus was on them to make sure I could hear what was being said.I still struggle but at least I know that there is a problem and feel much more confident nowadays.

  17. Shannon says:

    I have had this problem since my early twenties. I always have to have people repeat themselves, just like people who hear a word that they understand, which indicates to some that you are an idiot. Well, I am not an idiot, I just have problem understanding intelligent people when they don’t enunciate! Recently, I took my daughter and her friends to a Justin Beiber concert. Bad idea. I only knew 1 of his songs anyway, but I honestly did not hear 1 single word that he or Usher said all night long and that is because of the constant scream of thousands of little girls. Today, and why I decided enough is enough, I was watching “Ghost”. A movie I have seen a hundred times, yet could’t make out what was being said because of the background music. And of course, when I turn up the volume, it also increases the background music, therefore, not helping. So I googled and read and read, diagnosed myself with Auditory Processing Disorder/Cocktail Party Syndrom and found out there is no cure, only things to try. Here is a quote from a site that I found that makes sense and am going to try. I send u this with an ear plug in my right ear… hope this helps someone else too. I also included the site info at the end.

    “What is the most common finding in persons with APD?
    All humans are slightly asymmetric. We have a stronger hand, a stronger eye and a stronger ear. For most, it is usually the right ear that dominates our auditory processing. This doesn’t mean that the left ear is weak, but it means that the left ear doesn’t perform at the same level as the right ear. Many children and adults with APD have a significantly larger difference between performance in the two ears than is seen in normal listeners. There is still a great deal to learn about these differenced, but some benefits have been found when training programs are focused on facilitating listening behavior in the weaker left ear. Listeners with larger than normal difference between the two ears are less likely to benefit from an assistive listening device (which serves only to make the differences louder). Training programs need to be developed that will train the ears to work more equally so that the degree of asymmetry can approach normal levels. ”
    reference: http://www.audiologyawareness.com/hearinfo_apd.asp


  18. Melanie says:

    Today I visited the hospital and saw an audiologist who told me my problem. Yes I do have age-related hearing loss, in my left ear, so he told me today.Its not at the point where I need a hearing aid yet, but this fantastic audiologist told me that I suffer fron Obscure Auditory Dysfunction. He says I am showing signs of early cochlear damage, which is a problem with OAD. He said the best thing to do is to make people aware that I have a hearing problem. I have difficulty understanding someone if they are walking in front of me, even if I am listening to someone i miss part of the sentence. If I am in one room and someone else is in another, I struggle to understand what they say. So now I have to say to people to talk to me face to face, if they are in another room, to come to where I am and speak to me face to face. When I speak to people on the phone there are times when I get frustrated because I have to keep asking them to repeat what they said.

    Its true what they audiologist said to me today if we need glasses to see, we use them, because we need them. He gave me a handout about OAD. It explains about OAD, how people can be affected, how sound travels through the ear etc. There is also something called Hearing Therapy. It can involve all or some of the following: communication tactics, coping techniques when communication breaks down, assertiveness training, memory exercises, auditory training in background noise, counselling – explanantion of condition, expectations and demands of self, confidence building and relaxation. I panic in a room with lots of people, but now I will be more assertive and say to someone to speak to me face to face. To sit at the front of the room etc.

    I hope this helps someone else.

  19. Callum says:

    After yet another disaterous night out starting off good, but as the pub became packed and the music goes up I find myself being unable to hear a word, enjoyed 4 hours, sat in silence for the last 2 regretting ever going out. So I thought i’d google it and it is spot on.

    Especially the lip reading part, honestly if there is so little noise as a boiling kettle or a quiet tv in a house with two people I have to lip read to understand the person, even worse in the pub, yet more difficult when sitting around a pub bench, I also have the one side in the fact I do tilt to the right when trying to hear as though i’m slightly death in the left, sadly it normally makes it worse as i’m no longer lip reading lol.

    Reading this I think perhaps positioning is spot on, as I was unable to hear the person sitting directly next to me, yet when he turned and we chatted, it was like all the ambient noises faded, almost crystal clear. So perhaps sitting in the middle facing everyone rather than in the corner is the answer.

    Thankyou for this, confirmed a few theroes of my own, sounds like you have some knowedgable doctors.

  20. Sam says:

    I’ve been suffering from this ‘no-name’ hearing issue for ages (i’m 44 now). Today, I was googling on ‘hearing loss background noise’ and ended up learning that there is a name to it; ‘cocktain party syndrome’. The description of the disorder fit my predicaments well. In party, restraunts, etc with background noice, I can hear what the other person is speaking but I cant understand what he is saying being not able to differentiate between background noise and those who are talking to me.
    I was in stock market research and sales and used to have a lot of client dinners in such noisy backgrounds. It was so embarassing when I kept saying ‘ya’ without knowing what the other person was talking. I’m sure, there were certain situations, when people got offended for me not able to answer them properly.
    Once I was in Hong Kong with a group of traders from Goldman Sachs in a pub. In order to focus on what they are saying, I kept my palm behind my ears slightly pressing from behind. That was making it a bit better reducing the background noise. One of the guys (a westerner) didnt like my behavior. He was drunk and blurted out saying that its so impolite you holding your ear like that. I was embarassed, shocked. More so, as their senior had a soft corner for me and hence invited me to be with his team at the pub! It could have been embarassing for him.
    If I’m in a car with windows all shut, I can engage in the best of conversations. Also, inside a closed cabin I am at my best in terms of my voice quality as well as sharpness of listening to others talks. Hence, any important meeting I always wish that it happens in such places.
    As many have shared here, I’m the odd man out in conversations in noisy places and finally becomes a silent participant. Quite often, looking for a chance to make a hasty retreat from the scene.
    Somehow, since decades, I had to grapple with issues which used to cripple my social equations. Though embarassing, let me share it here, though it deviates form the main topic of auditory problem discussed here.
    From the age of 15, i knew my breath smells. Due to this i used to restrain myself from getting closer to people while talking. I tried many doctors but none could help. But I used to do my self enquiries and one by one i started plugging the holes. I used to get tonsil stones in my throat which is a small ball of white substance and smelly. Doctors advised me to do surgery to remove the tonsils. But I kept searching and finally discovered that it is due to ‘lactose intolerance’. it is the undigested milk (lactase) which is the source of this problem. I stopped all diary and diary products and in few weeks the problem stopped.
    I thought finally i have cured my bad breath. But it was only solving half the problem. Somehow, destiny was a bit unfair with me that i should not enjoy social life. Now, I realised that half the problem also is acidity. I’m hyper acidic which was know since the age of 15. I have decided not to leave any stone unturned in controlling acidity. With that I mostly cured my bad breath. But by then I’m 45 having missed many wonderful times in life which could have been relished if it was cured. Most disheartening loss is that I used to avoid girls during my late school and college as I knew my bad breath would put them off. At least, from here, I could live without it and make the best of it.
    Same way, I hope, I will be able to overcome this background noise issue through some discovery. Or at least, I can now be upfront with people that I have problem called ‘cocktail party syndrome’ or auditory processing disorder and hence, I need to focus a little differently to hear what you are saying. so, please dont be offended if i keep my ears in a special way or I want you to speak straight into my face or things like that. Or honestly, tell them that I cant hear anything here and hence, please excuse me.

  21. Tim says:

    Another sufferer here with not much to add apart from I have, my dad has it and I’m certain my son now has it! So whatever my problem is it’s hereditary. It breaks my heart to think iv passed it to my son. I just hope there is a cure before long

  22. jim says:

    This is a fascinating thread.
    I’ve always had it but didn’t recognise it as a problem until my girlfriend had a real go at me for looking bored and not taking past in conversations on a night out. She was amazed to discover I had no idea what people were saying.
    I think for me it’s a developmental thing. I was brought up in a quiet household where it was considered rude to interrupt, one person spoke at a time, silence was a sign of appreciation of good food, the radio was for listening to and not as a background etc.
    I simply don’t think I ever had the chance to develop the skills and ‘brian wiring’ to filter out speech at the crucial time for development. This could be similar to the difficulties encountered in children with a late diagnosis of deafness.
    The funny thing is my problem is unique to speech. We listened to a lot of music when I was young and now I can pick out different parts easily to the extent that I have been known to listen to stuff that I don’t actually like, but I just love what the guitar is playing underneath it all.
    So I think that supports my brain development theory.
    I’d be intersted to know if others had similar upbringings. Could there be early onset and late onset APD with different underlying causes?

  23. Larissa says:

    Hi all,

    This post is years old, but I’ve just stumbled across it, and it’s so weirdly nice to hear (haha) about fellow sufferers. I actually had a hearing test when I was very young because I was struggling to hear things at home. The doctor told me I had issues picking speech from background noise and that I clearly use lip reading to help me get by. That was it and then she sent me away. While I wasn’t given an actual name for the disorder it helped me all through childhood and my twenties to give a reason as to why I hated clubbing and being in loud places.

    I was also wondering if anyone has been finding online meetings incredibly difficult? I find if I put headphones in to blank out background noise at home, I then can’t hear my own speech and have no idea how loudly I’m talking. But also if people don’t put their video on then I find it really hard to understand what they are saying if everyone else isn’t correctly muted or there is interference on their line.

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