If you have a partner with neglected hearing loss, you know that getting their attention can be… a struggle. First, you try to say their name. “Greg”, you say, but you used a regular, indoor volume level, so you get no reply. You try saying Greg’s name a little louder and still nothing. So finally, you shout.
And that’s when Greg spins around with absolutely no awareness of his comedic timing and says grouchily, “what are you shouting for?”
It’s not just stubbornness and irritability that cause this situation. Hypersensitivity to loud sound is frequently reported in those with hearing loss. And this sensitivity to loud noises can help explain why Greg can’t hear his name at a normal volume but gets aggravated when you shout at him.
Can loud sounds seem louder with hearing loss?
Hearing loss can be a strange thing. Usually, hearing loss will cause your hearing to decline, particularly if it goes untreated. But things can get really 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 someone is shouting to get your attention.
And you’ll wonder why you’re so sensitive to loud noise.
Which can, truthfully, put you in a cranky mood. Many people 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 noticeable hearing loss symptoms. It feels like a contradiction.
The cause of this sound sensitivity is a condition called auditory recruitment. It works like this:
- There are tiny hairs, known as stereocilia, that cover your inner ear. These hairs vibrate when soundwaves enter your ears and this vibration is then converted to sounds by your brain.
- Deterioration of these hairs is what causes age-related sensorineural hearing loss. Over time, these little hairs are permanently damaged by frequent exposure to loud sounds. Consequently, your hearing becomes less sensitive. The more compromised hairs you have, the less you’re able to hear.
- But this is not an evenly occurring process. There will be a combination of healthy and damaged hairs.
- So when the damaged hairs are exposed to a loud noise, the healthy hairs are “recruited” (hence the condition’s name) to send a message of alarm to your brain. So, suddenly, everything is really loud because all of your stereocilia are firing (just like they would with any other loud noise).
Think about it like this: everything is quiet except for the Michael Bay explosion. So the Michael Bay explosion will seem louder (and more obnoxious) than it would otherwise!
Isn’t that the same as hyperacusis?
You might 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 sounds, and hyperacusis is a condition in which sounds very abruptly get loud.
But there are some key differences:
- Hyperacusis is not directly related to hearing loss. Auditory recruitment definitely is.
- Noises that are normal objectively will sound really loud for someone who has hyperacusis. Think about it like this: A shout will still sound like a shout with auditory recruitment; but when you have hyperacusis, a whisper could sound like a shout.
- Hyperacusis causes pain. Literally. Most people who experience hyperacusis report feeling pain. With auditory recruitment, that’s normally not the case.
At the end of the day, auditory recruitment and hyperacusis have a few superficially similar symptoms. But they are not the same condition.
Is there any way to treat audio recruitment?
There’s no cure for hearing loss and that’s the bad news. Once your hearing is gone, it’s gone. Managing 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 be treated successfully. Normally, hearing aids are at the center of that treatment. And there’s a specific calibration for those hearing aids. That’s why addressing auditory recruitment will nearly always require scheduling an appointment with us.
The exact frequencies of sound that are triggering your auditory recruitment will be determined. Then your hearing aids will be dialed in to lower the volume of those frequencies. It’s sort of like magic, but it’s using science and technology (so, not really like magic at all, but it works really well is what we’re trying to convey here).
Successful treatment will only work with specific types of hearing aids. The symptoms can’t be managed with over-the-counter hearing devices because they lack the technological sophistication.
Schedule an appointment with us
If you are suffering from sensitivity to loud noises, it’s important to recognize that you can find relief. The bonus is that your new hearing aid will make everything sound clearer.
But making an appointment is the first step. Many people who have hearing loss cope with hypersensitivity to loud noise.
It doesn’t need to keep making you miserable.