If you have a partner with untreated hearing loss, you know that getting their attention can be… a struggle. First, you try to use their name. You say “Greg”, but you get no answer because you used an inside volume level. You try saying Greg’s name a little louder and still no reply. 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 interaction isn’t the result of stubbornness or impatience. People with hearing loss often report hypersensitivity to loud sound. So it makes sense that Greg gets aggravated when you shout his name after he continually fails to hear you when you speak to him at a normal volume.
Can hearing loss make loud sounds worse?
So, hearing loss can be kind of curious. Usually, hearing loss will cause your hearing to decline, especially 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 noisy. So loud that it can become uncomfortable. Maybe it’s someone yelling to get your attention or one of the explosions in the latest Transformers movie, it just becomes really loud really fast.
And you’ll think: What’s causing this sensitivity to loud noise?
Which can also make you feel a little aggravated, honestly. Many individuals who experience this will feel like they’re going mad. They have a difficult time figuring out 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?
The cause of this sound sensitivity is a condition known as auditory recruitment. Here’s how it works:
- There are little 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.
- Damage to these hairs is what brings about age-related sensorineural hearing loss. Loud sounds can degrade the hairs over time, and once they are injured, they are unable to heal. Consequently, your hearing becomes less sensitive. The more compromised hairs you have, the less you can hear.
- But this process doesn’t occur evenly. There will be a mixture of healthy and damaged hairs.
- So when you hear a loud noise, the damaged hairs “recruit” the healthy hairs (thus the name of the condition) to send an alarmed message to your brain. All of a sudden, all of the stereocilia fire, and everything becomes very loud.
Think about it like this: everything is silent except for the Michael Bay explosion. So it will seem louder, when that Michael Bay explosion occurs, than it normally would.
Sounds like 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, reasonable. Both conditions can make sounds very loud all of a sudden.
But there are some key differences:
- Hyperacusis is not directly related to hearing loss. Auditory recruitment definitely is.
- When you’re dealing with hyperacusis, noises that are at an objectively normal volume seem extremely loud to you. Think about it this way: A shout will still sound like a shout when you have auditory recruitment; but with hyperacusis, a whisper could sound like a shout.
- Hyperacusis comes with pain. Literally. Feeling pain is common for people with hyperacusis. With auditory recruitment, that’s usually not the case.
Overall, auditory recruitment and hyperacusis have a few superficially similar symptoms. But they aren’t the same condition.
Can auditory recruitment be treated?
There’s no cure for hearing loss and that’s the bad news. Your hearing will never return once it’s gone. Managing hearing loss early will go a long way to prevent this.
The same goes for auditory recruitment. Fortunately, there are ways to successfully treat auditory recruitment. Usually, 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 precise frequencies of sound that are causing your auditory recruitment will be determined. Then your hearing aids will be dialed in to lower the volume of those frequencies. It’s kind of like magic, only it’s using science and technology (so, not really like magic at all, but it works really well is what we’re trying to communicate here).
Only specific types of hearing aid will be effective. The symptoms can’t be managed with over-the-counter hearing devices because they lack the technological sophistication.
Call us for an appointment
It’s essential that you know that you can get relief from your sensitivity to loud noise. You will also get the added benefit of using a hearing aid to enhance your life’s soundscape.
But scheduling an appointment is the first step. Lots of people who have hearing loss deal with hypersensitivity to loud sound.
It doesn’t need to keep making you miserable.