You know that it can be a challenge to get your partner’s attention if they have neglected hearing loss. 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.
Well this time Greg hears you and crossly asks what you’re shouting for.
It’s not just stubbornness and impatience that create this situation. Hypersensitivity to loud sound is often documented in those with hearing loss. So it seems logical that Greg gets cranky when you shout his name after he repeatedly fails to hear you when you speak to him at a normal volume.
Can loud sounds seem louder with hearing loss?
So, hearing loss is sort of curious. The vast majority of time, you’ll hear less and less, especially if your hearing loss remains unaddressed. But things can get really loud when you’re out at a busy restaurant or watching a Michael Bay movie. Uncomfortably loud. Maybe the movie gets really loud all of a sudden or somebody is shouting to get your attention.
And you’ll wonder why you have this sensitivity to loud noise.
Which can also make you feel a little aggravated, honestly. Many people will feel like they’re going mad when they notice this. They have a difficult time identifying how loud things are. Imagine, all of your friends, family, and acquaintances seem to confirm you’re losing your hearing, but you have this sudden sensitivity to loud sound. How is that possible?
A condition called auditory recruitment can trigger these symptoms. this is how it works:
- The interior of your ears are covered with tiny hairs called stereocilia. These hairs vibrate when soundwaves enter your ears and this vibration is then translated to sounds by your brain.
- Damage to these hairs is what causes age-related sensorineural hearing loss. Loud sounds can degrade the hairs over time, and once they are damaged, they are unable to heal. Consequently, your hearing becomes less sensitive. Your degree of hearing loss will be increasingly worse the more hairs that are damaged.
- But this is not an evenly occurring process. There will be a mixture of healthy and damaged hairs.
- So when the damaged hairs are exposed to a loud noise, the healthy hairs are “recruited” (thus the condition’s name) to send a signal of alarm to your brain. So, all of a sudden, everything is really loud because all of your stereocilia are firing (just as they would with any other loud sound).
Think about it this way: That Michael Bay explosion is loud but everything else is quiet. So the Michael Bay explosion will seem louder (and more obnoxious) than it otherwise would!
Isn’t that exactly like hyperacusis?
You may think that these symptoms sound a bit familiar. There is a condition known as hyperacusis that has similar symptoms and the two are frequently confused. At first glance, this confusion is understandable. Auditory recruitment is a condition where you have a sensitivity to loud noises, and hyperacusis is a condition in which sounds very abruptly get loud.
But here are a few significant differences:
- Hyperacusis isn’t directly related to hearing loss. Auditory recruitment certainly is.
- Noises that are normal objectively will seem really loud for somebody who has hyperacusis. Think about it this way: When you’re experiencing auditory recruitment, a shout sounds like a shout; but a whisper can sound like a shout for those who have hyperacusis.
- Hyperacusis causes pain. Literally. Feeling pain is common for people who have hyperacusis. That’s not always the case with auditory recruitment.
Overall, auditory recruitment and hyperacusis have a few superficially similar symptoms. But they are quite different conditions.
Can auditory recruitment be treated?
Here’s the bad news, there’s no cure for hearing loss. Your hearing will never come back once it goes. Treatment of hearing loss can prevent this, largely.
This also applies to auditory recruitment. Fortunately, there are ways to successfully address auditory recruitment. In most situations, that treatment will involve hearing aids. And there’s a particular calibration for those hearing aids. That’s why treating auditory recruitment will almost always require scheduling an appointment with us.
We’ll be able to identify the particular wavelengths of sound that are causing your auditory recruitment symptoms. Your hearing aids can then be adjusted to reduce that wavelength of sound. It’s sort of like magic, but it’s using science and technology (so, not really like magic at all, but it works really effectively is what we’re trying to convey here).
Successful treatment will only work with specific types of hearing aids. Over-the-counter hearing aids or sound amplifiers, for example, do not have the required technological sophistication and built-in sensitivity, so they won’t be able to deal with your symptoms.
Make an appointment with us
If you are suffering from sensitivity to loud noises, it’s important to know that you can get relief. The bonus is that your new hearing aid will make everything sound clearer.
But it all starts by scheduling an appointment. This hypersensitivity is a natural part of the hearing loss process, it happens to lots and lots of people.
It doesn’t have to keep making you miserable.