You know that it can be difficult to get your partner’s attention if they have neglected hearing loss. First, you try to say their name. You say “Greg”, but you get no answer because you used an indoor volume level. You try increasing your volume and saying Greg’s name again but he still doesn’t respond. So you resort to shouting.
Well this time Greg hears you and crossly asks what you’re shouting for.
This interaction isn’t the result of stubbornness or impatience. Individuals with hearing loss frequently report hypersensitivity to loud sound. So it makes sense that Greg gets cranky when you shout his name after he repeatedly fails to hear you when you talk to him at a normal volume.
Can loud sounds seem louder with hearing loss?
Hearing loss can be a peculiar thing. The vast majority of time, you’ll hear less and less, especially if your hearing loss goes untreated. But things can get very loud when you’re out at a crowded 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, honestly, put you in a cranky mood. Many individuals will feel like they’re going crazy when they notice this. That’s because they can’t determine 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. How can that be?
A condition called auditory recruitment can cause these symptoms. It works like this:
- There are tiny hairs, known as stereocilia, covering your inner ear. These hairs resonate when soundwaves enter your ears and this vibration is then converted 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 injured, they are unable to heal. Your hearing becomes more muffled as a result. Your level of hearing loss will be increasingly worse the more hairs that are damaged.
- But this isn’t an evenly occurring process. There is always some combination of damaged hairs and healthy hairs.
- So when you hear a loud noise, the impaired hairs “recruit” the healthy hairs (thus the name of the condition) to send a warning message to your brain. All of a sudden, all of the stereocilia fire, and everything gets really loud.
Think about it this way: That Michael Bay explosion is loud while everything else is quiet. So it will seem louder, when that Michael Bay explosion occurs, than it normally would.
Isn’t that the same as hyperacusis?
Those symptoms might sound a little familiar. There is a condition known as hyperacusis that has comparable symptoms and the two are often confused. That conflation is, at first, understandable. Both conditions can cause sounds to get very loud suddenly.
But there are a few key differences:
- While hyperacusis has no link to hearing loss, there is a direct link between auditory recruitment and hearing loss.
- Noises that are normal objectively will seem very loud for somebody who has hyperacusis. Think about it like this: A shout will still sound like a shout when you have auditory recruitment; but when you have hyperacusis, a whisper could sound like a shout.
- Hyperacusis is painful. Literally. Most people who cope with hyperacusis report feelings of pain. With auditory recruitment, that’s normally not the case.
Overall, auditory recruitment and hyperacusis have some superficially similar symptoms. But they aren’t the same condition.
Can auditory recruitment be managed?
There’s no cure for hearing loss and that’s the bad news. Once your hearing is gone, it’s gone. Addressing hearing loss early will go a long way to prevent this.
This also applies to auditory recruitment. But the good news is that auditory recruitment can successfully be treated. Typically, hearing aids are at the center of that treatment. And those hearing aids have to be specifically calibrated. That’s why treating auditory recruitment will nearly always require making an appointment with us.
The exact frequencies of sound that are causing your auditory recruitment will be identified. Then your hearing aids will be dialed in to reduce the volume of those frequencies. It’s sort of like magic, only 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).
Effective treatment can only work with certain types of hearing aids. The symptoms can’t be addressed with over-the-counter hearing devices because they lack the technological sophistication.
Make an appointment with us
It’s essential that you recognize that you can get relief from your sensitivity to loud noise. You will also get the added benefit of using a hearing aid to improve your life’s soundscape.
But scheduling an appointment is the first step. Many people who have hearing loss cope with hypersensitivity to loud noise.
It doesn’t have to keep making you miserable.