The effect of sensorineural hearing loss and tinnitus on speech recognition over air and bone conduction military communications headsets
Military personnel are at risk for hearing loss due to noise exposure during deployment (USACHPPM, 2008). Despite mandated use of hearing protection, hearing loss and tinnitus are prevalent due to reluctance to use hearing protection. Bone conduction headsets can offer good speech intelligibility for normal hearing (NH) listeners while allowing the ears to remain open in quiet environments and the use of hearing protection when needed. Those who suffer from tinnitus, the experience of perceiving a sound not produced by an external source, often show degraded speech recognition; however, it is unclear whether this is a result of decreased hearing sensitivity or increased distractibility (Moon et al., 2015). It has been suggested that the vibratory stimulation of a bone conduction headset might ameliorate the effects of tinnitus on speech perception; however, there is currently no research to support or refute this claim (Hoare et al., 2014). Speech recognition of words presented over air conduction and bone conduction headsets was measured for three groups of listeners: NH, sensorineural hearing impaired, and/or tinnitus sufferers. Three levels of speech-to-noise (SNR = 0, −6, −12 dB) were created by embedding speech items in pink noise. Better speech recognition performance was observed with the bone conduction headset regardless of hearing profile, and speech intelligibility was a function of SNR. Discussion will include study limitations and the implications of these findings for those serving in the military.