If you have a partner with untreated hearing loss, you realize that getting their attention can be… a problem. Their name is the first thing you try saying. You say “Greg”, but you get no answer because you used an inside volume level. You try saying Greg’s name a bit louder and still no reply. So you resort to shouting.
And that’s when Greg spins around with absolutely no awareness of his comedic timing and says crossly, “what are you shouting for?”
This interaction isn’t due to stubbornness or impatience. Hypersensitivity to loud sound is often documented in those who have hearing loss. And this sensitivity to loud noises can help illustrate why Greg doesn’t hear his name at a normal volume but gets aggravated when you shout at him.
Can hearing loss make loud sounds even worse?
Hearing loss can be a peculiar thing. The majority of time, you’ll hear less and less, particularly if your hearing loss goes unaddressed. But things can get very loud when you’re out at a busy restaurant or watching a Michael Bay movie. So loud that it can become uncomfortable. Maybe the movie suddenly gets really loud or somebody is shouting to get your attention.
And you’ll wonder why you’re so sensitive to loud noise.
Which can also make you feel a little cranky, honestly. Many people who notice this will feel like they’re going mad. They have a difficult time figuring out how loud things are. You have a sudden sensitivity to loud sounds even as your friends and family are pointing out your very obvious hearing loss symptoms. It feels like a contradiction.
A condition called auditory recruitment can cause these symptoms. Here’s how it works:
- The inside of your ears are covered in tiny hairs called stereocilia. When soundwaves enter into your ears, these hairs resonate and your brain translates that signal into sounds.
- Damage to these hairs is what produces age-related sensorineural hearing loss. Loud sounds can damage the hairs over time, and once they are injured, they never heal. Consequently, your hearing becomes less sensitive. Your level of hearing loss will be increasingly worse the more hairs that are damaged.
- But this is not an evenly occurring process. There is always some mixture of damaged hairs and healthy hairs.
- So when you hear a loud sound, the damaged hairs “recruit” the healthy hairs (hence the name of the condition) to send a warning message to your brain. So, all of a sudden, everything gets very loud because all of your stereocilia are firing (just as they would with any other loud sound).
Think about it like this: everything is silent except for the Michael Bay explosion. So the Michael Bay explosion is going to seem louder (and more obnoxious) than it otherwise would!
Isn’t that the same as hyperacusis?
Those symptoms might sound a little familiar. That’s probably because they’re frequently confused with a condition called hyperacusis. That confusion is, initially, reasonable. Auditory recruitment is a condition where you have a sensitivity to loud sounds, and hyperacusis is a condition where sounds very suddenly get loud.
But there are a few key differences:
- While hyperacusis has no connection to hearing loss, there is a direct connection between auditory recruitment and hearing loss.
- When you have hyperacusis, noises that are at an objectively ordinary volume seem very loud to you. Think about it like this: When you have auditory recruitment, a shout sounds like a shout; but a whisper could sound like a shout for those who have hyperacusis.
- Hyperacusis causes pain. Literally. Feeling pain is common for individuals with hyperacusis. That’s not necessarily the case with auditory recruitment.
It’s true that hyperacusis and auditory recruitment have a few similar symptoms. But they are very different conditions.
Can auditory recruitment be treated?
The bad news is that there’s no cure for hearing loss. Once your hearing goes, it’s gone. Addressing hearing loss early will go a long way to protect against this.
The same goes for auditory recruitment. But here’s the good news, auditory recruitment can be treated successfully. Usually, hearing aids are at the center of that treatment. And there’s a particular calibration for those hearing aids. That’s why treating auditory recruitment will nearly always require making an appointment with us.
We’ll be able to determine the specific wavelengths of sound that are responsible for your auditory recruitment symptoms. Then your hearing aids will be dialed in to reduce the volume of those frequencies. It’s a very effective treatment.
Effective treatment can only be accomplished with certain types of hearing aids. Over-the-counter hearing aids or sound amplifiers, for instance, do not have the required technological sophistication and built-in sensitivity, so they will not be able to address your symptoms.
Schedule an appointment with us
It’s essential that you know that you can get relief from your sensitivity to loud sound. You will also get the extra benefit of using a hearing aid to enhance your life’s soundscape.
But it all starts by making an appointment. This hypersensitivity is a normal part of the hearing loss process, it happens to lots and lots of people.
You can get help so call us.