You know that it can be a challenge to get your partner’s attention if they have untreated hearing loss. Their name is the first thing you try saying. You say “Greg”, but you get no answer because you used an indoor volume level. You try raising your volume and saying Greg’s name again but he still doesn’t hear you. So finally, you shout.
And that’s when Greg spins around with absolutely no awareness of his comedic timing and says grouchily, “why are you shouting?”
It’s not just stubbornness and impatience that create this interaction. Hypersensitivity to loud sound is often documented in those with hearing loss. 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?
So, hearing loss is sort of curious. Typical, hearing loss will cause your hearing to decline, particularly if it goes untreated. But every now and then, you’ll watch a Michael Bay movie, or be talking with someone, or be having dinner in a restaurant, and things will get really loud. Uncomfortably loud. Maybe it’s somebody yelling to get your attention or one of the explosions in the latest Transformers film, it just gets really loud really fast.
And you’ll think: Why am I so sensitive to loud noise?
Which can also make you feel a bit cranky, honestly. Many individuals will feel like they’re going mad when they notice this. They have a hard time identifying how loud things are. You have a sudden sensitivity to loud sounds even as your friends and family are pointing out your very noticeable hearing loss symptoms. How is that possible?
The cause of this noise sensitivity is a condition called auditory recruitment. Here’s 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 produces age-related sensorineural hearing loss. Loud sounds can degrade the hairs over time, and once they are damaged, they are unable to heal. As a result, your hearing becomes less sensitive. Your level of hearing loss will be increasingly worse the more hairs that are damaged.
- But this isn’t an evenly occurring process. There will be a combination of healthy and damaged hairs.
- So when you hear a loud noise, the impaired hairs “recruit” the healthy hairs (hence the name of the condition) to send a warning message to your brain. So, suddenly, everything is really loud because all of your stereocilia are firing (just like they would with any other loud sound).
Think about it this way: That Michael Bay explosion is loud but 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?
You may think that these symptoms sound a bit familiar. There is a condition called hyperacusis that has comparable symptoms and the two are frequently confused. When you first compare them, this confusion is easy to understand. Auditory recruitment is a condition where you have a sensitivity to loud noises, and hyperacusis is a condition where sounds very abruptly get loud.
But here are a few substantial differences:
- While hyperacusis has no connection to hearing loss, there is a direct link between auditory recruitment and hearing loss.
- When you have hyperacusis, noises that are at an objectively normal volume seem extremely loud to you. Think about it this way: When you have auditory recruitment, a shout sounds like a shout; but when you have hyperacusis, a whisper could sound like a shout.
- Hyperacusis comes with pain. Literally. Feeling pain is common for individuals who have hyperacusis. With auditory recruitment, that’s usually not the case.
At the end of the day, auditory recruitment and hyperacusis have a few superficially similar symptoms. But they are entirely different conditions.
Can auditory recruitment be managed?
There’s no cure for hearing loss and that’s the bad news. Your hearing will never come back once it goes. Treatment of hearing loss can largely prevent this.
The same is true of auditory recruitment. Fortunately, there are ways to successfully treat auditory recruitment. In most cases, that treatment will include hearing aids. And those hearing aids have to be specially calibrated. So it will be necessary to make an appointment with us.
The precise frequencies of sound that are causing your auditory recruitment will be determined. Then your hearing aids will be dialed in to reduce the volume of those wavelengths. It’s kind 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 communicate here).
Only certain types of hearing aid will be successful. The symptoms can’t be managed with over-the-counter hearing devices because they lack the technological sophistication.
Contact us for an appointment
It’s essential that you know that you can get relief from your sensitivity to loud sound. The bonus is that your new hearing aid will make everything sound clearer.
But making an appointment is the starting point. This hypersensitivity is a normal part of the hearing loss process, it happens to lots and lots of people.
It doesn’t need to keep making you miserable.