You know that it can be difficult to get your partner’s attention if they have untreated hearing loss. First, you try to say their name. “Greg”, you say, but you used a standard, indoor volume level, so you get nothing. You try raising your volume and saying Greg’s name again but he still doesn’t hear you. So you resort to shouting.
And that’s when Greg whirls around with absolutely no awareness of his comedic timing and says grouchily, “what are you shouting for?”
This interaction isn’t the result of stubbornness or irritability. Individuals with hearing loss often report hypersensitivity to loud sound. So it seems logical that Greg gets aggravated 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 can be sort of curious. Normally, hearing loss will cause your hearing to diminish, especially if it goes untreated. But every once in a while, you’ll watch a Michael Bay movie, or be having a conversation, or be eating in a restaurant, and things will get really loud. Uncomfortably loud. Maybe it’s someone shouting to get your attention or one of the explosions in the newest Transformers movie, it just becomes really loud really fast.
And you’ll wonder why you’re so sensitive to loud noise.
Which can, honestly, put you in an irritable mood. Many individuals who notice this will feel like they’re going crazy. They have a difficult time identifying how loud things are. Imagine, all of your family, friends, and acquaintances seem to confirm you’re losing your ability to hear, but you have this sudden sensitivity to loud sound. It feels like a contradiction.
The cause of this sound sensitivity is a condition called auditory recruitment. It works like this:
- The inside of your ears are covered in tiny hairs called stereocilia. 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. Over time, these delicate hairs are permanently damaged by frequent exposure to loud sounds. As a result, your hearing becomes less sensitive. Your degree of hearing loss will be increasingly worse the more hairs that are compromised.
- But this process doesn’t take place evenly. There will be a combination of healthy and damaged hairs.
- So when the impaired hairs are exposed to a loud noise, the healthy hairs are “recruited” (hence the condition’s name) to send a signal of alarm to your brain. Suddenly, all of the stereocilia fire, and everything becomes really loud.
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 happens, than it normally would.
Sounds like hyperacusis
Those symptoms may sound a little familiar. That’s probably because they’re typically confused with a condition known as hyperacusis. When you first compare them, this confusion is easy to understand. Auditory recruitment is a condition in which you have a sensitivity to loud noises, and hyperacusis is a condition in which sounds very abruptly get loud.
But there are some key differences:
- While hyperacusis has no link to hearing loss, there is a direct link between auditory recruitment and hearing loss.
- When you’re dealing with hyperacusis, noises that are at an objectively ordinary volume seem really loud to you. Think about it like this: When you have auditory recruitment, a shout sounds like a shout; but when you have hyperacusis, a whisper might sound like a shout.
- Hyperacusis is painful. Literally. Most individuals who cope with hyperacusis report feeling pain. With auditory recruitment, that’s usually not the situation.
Overall, auditory recruitment and hyperacusis have a few superficially similar symptoms. But they aren’t the same condition.
Can auditory recruitment be treated?
There isn’t any 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.
This also applies to auditory recruitment. But the good news is that auditory recruitment can successfully be treated. Normally, hearing aids are at the center of that treatment. And those hearing aids need to be specifically calibrated. That’s why addressing auditory recruitment will nearly always require making an appointment with us.
The exact frequencies of sound that are triggering your auditory recruitment will be identified. Your hearing aids can then be adjusted to reduce that wavelength of sound. It’s a very effective treatment.
Successful treatment can only be accomplished with certain types of hearing aids. Over-the-counter hearing aids or sound amplifiers, for example, do not have the necessary technological sophistication and built-in sensitivity, so they won’t be able to deal with your symptoms.
Schedule an appointment with us
If you are experiencing sensitivity to loud noises, it’s important to recognize that you can get relief. The bonus is that your new hearing aid will make everything sound clearer.
But it all begins by making an appointment. This hypersensitivity is a natural part of the hearing loss process, it happens to many, many people.
It doesn’t have to keep making you miserable.