If you have a partner with neglected hearing loss, you appreciate that getting their attention can be… a problem. First, you try to use their name. “Greg”, you say, but you used a regular, inside volume level, so you get no reply. 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 whirls around with absolutely no recognition of his comedic timing and says crossly, “why are you shouting?”
This situation isn’t due to stubbornness or irritability. Individuals with hearing loss often 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 hearing loss make loud sounds worse?
So, hearing loss can be kind of peculiar. Typical, hearing loss will cause your hearing to decline, particularly if it goes untreated. But things can get very loud when you’re out at a packed 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 think: What’s causing this sensitivity to loud noise?
Which can, truthfully, put you in an irritable mood. Many people will feel like they’re going mad when they experience this. They have a hard time identifying how loud things are. You have a sudden sensitivity to loud sounds even as your family and friends are pointing out your very obvious hearing loss symptoms. How is that possible?
The cause of this sound sensitivity is a condition known as auditory recruitment. this is how it works:
- The interior of your ears are covered with tiny hairs called stereocilia. These hairs resonate when soundwaves enter your ears and this vibration is then converted to sounds by your brain.
- Age-related “sensorineural” hearing loss occurs as these hairs deteriorate. Loud sounds can degrade 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 more severe the more hairs that are compromised.
- But this isn’t an evenly occurring process. There will be a combination of healthy and damaged 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. Suddenly, all of the stereocilia fire, and everything becomes really loud.
Think about it like this: That Michael Bay explosion is loud but everything else is quiet. So the Michael Bay explosion is going to seem louder (and more obnoxious) than it otherwise would!
Sounds like hyperacusis
You might think that these symptoms sound a bit familiar. That’s probably because they’re typically confused with a condition called hyperacusis. When you first compare them, this confusion is understandable. Both conditions can cause sounds to get really loud suddenly.
But there are a few key differences:
- While hyperacusis has no connection 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: When you have auditory recruitment, a shout sounds like a shout; but a whisper can sound like a shout for those who have hyperacusis.
- Hyperacusis is painful. Literally. Most people who experience hyperacusis report feeling pain. With auditory recruitment, that’s usually not the case.
At the end of the day, auditory recruitment and hyperacusis have some superficially similar symptoms. But they are very different conditions.
Is there any way to treat audio recruitment?
Here’s the bad news, there’s no cure for hearing loss. Your hearing will never return once it goes. Treating 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 successfully be treated. In most cases, that treatment will involve hearing aids. And those hearing aids need to be specially calibrated. So it will be necessary to make an appointment with us.
We’ll be able to determine the particular wavelengths of sound that are causing your auditory recruitment symptoms. Then your hearing aids will be dialed in to reduce the volume of those frequencies. It’s a really effective treatment.
Only specific types of hearing aid will be effective. Over-the-counter hearing aids or sound amplifiers, for example, do not have the required technological sophistication and built-in sensitivity, so they will not be able to deal with your symptoms.
Schedule an appointment with us
If you are suffering from sensitivity to loud noises, it’s important to realize that you can find relief. You will also get the additional benefit of using a hearing aid to improve your life’s soundscape.
But making an appointment is the starting point. Lots of people who have hearing loss cope with hypersensitivity to loud noise.
It doesn’t need to keep making you miserable.