Audiologists have been at a loss to explain why some people cannot decipher speech in noisy situations -- 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.

Right now there is no "cure" for hidden hearing loss. Hearing aids can help some patients.