Jeff Larcomb can pass a standard hearing test just fine. But when he is in noisy rooms-- like a crowded restaurant or a packed bar-- he can't figure out what people are saying.
"It's impossible, I cannot, as soon as there's competing sound, it's all mushed together."
Larcomb said he comes off as mister awkward in social settings.
"I'm staring really intently at people and trying to follow their mouth and stuff like that, and it's just not normal behavior, right? And people are kind of like, 'What's this guy's deal?'"
Audiologists said why patients like Larcomb can not decipher speech in noisy situations has been unexplained-- until, possibly, now. A new breakthrough study calls this "hidden hearing loss."
"Hidden hearing loss, this new problem that we're talking about, may very well explain a substantial number of these people who have trouble hearing in background noise," said James Hall, Audiologist.
Researchers studied young adults who may have regularly overexposed their ears to loud sounds. And found "hidden hearing loss" is associated with a disorder deep in the auditory system.
It could also play a role in tinnitus, or ringing in the ears.
Experts said it is not an official diagnosis, but it's promising for frustrated patients.
"The term hidden hearing loss is a great place for us to start, and I'm really excited about that because what I think it does is it gives credence of the fact that this patient population exists," said Gail Whitelaw, Audiologist.
And Larcomb said he's "all ears" to hear more about what future researchers uncover about his medical mystery.
"This is huge."
Right now there is no "cure" for hidden hearing loss. Hearing aids can help some patients.