You know that it can be a challenge to get your partner’s attention if they have neglected hearing loss. First, you try to say their name. You say “Greg”, but you get no answer because you used an indoor volume level. You try saying Greg’s name a little louder and still no reply. So you resort to shouting.
Well this time Greg hears you and crossly asks what you’re yelling for.
This situation isn’t due to stubbornness or irritability. Hypersensitivity to loud sound is often documented in those who have 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 peculiar thing. The vast majority of time, you’ll hear less and less, particularly if your hearing loss goes untreated. But every now and then, you’ll watch a Michael Bay movie, or be having a conversation, or be having dinner in a restaurant, and things will get really loud. Uncomfortably loud. Maybe the movie gets really loud all of a sudden or someone is yelling to get your attention.
And you’ll think: What’s causing this sensitivity to loud noise?
Which can, truthfully, put you in a cranky mood. Many people who notice this will feel like they’re going mad. That’s because they can’t get a handle on how loud anything is. You have a sudden sensitivity to loud sounds even as your friends and family are pointing out your very obvious hearing loss symptoms. How is that possible?
A condition called auditory recruitment can trigger these symptoms. It works like this:
- The interior of your ears are covered with tiny hairs known as stereocilia. When soundwaves enter your ears, these hairs vibrate and your brain translates that signal into sounds.
- Deterioration of these hairs is what brings about age-related sensorineural hearing loss. Loud sounds can damage the hairs over time, and once they are damaged, they are unable to heal. 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 mixture 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 an alarmed message to your brain. All of a sudden, all of the stereocilia fire, and everything becomes really loud.
Think about it like this: everything is quiet except for the Michael Bay explosion. So the Michael Bay explosion is going to 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. That’s probably because they’re frequently confused with a condition known as hyperacusis. When you first compare them, this confusion is understandable. Both conditions can make sounds very loud suddenly.
But there are a few key differences:
- Hyperacusis is not directly related to hearing loss. Auditory recruitment absolutely is.
- When you have hyperacusis, noises that are at an objectively ordinary volume seem really loud to you. Think about it like this: A shout will still sound like a shout when you have auditory recruitment; but with hyperacusis, a whisper might sound like a shout.
- Hyperacusis causes pain. Literally. Feeling pain is common for individuals who have hyperacusis. That’s not always the situation with auditory recruitment.
It’s true that hyperacusis and auditory recruitment have some similar symptoms. But they are very different conditions.
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.
The same goes for auditory recruitment. But the good news is that auditory recruitment can successfully be treated. In most situations, that treatment will involve hearing aids. And there’s a specific calibration for those hearing aids. That’s why treating auditory recruitment will almost always require making an appointment with us.
The precise frequencies of sound that are triggering your auditory recruitment will be determined. Your hearing aids can then be adjusted to diminish that wavelength of sound. 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 necessary technological sophistication and built-in sensitivity, so they won’t be able to deal with your symptoms.
Contact us for an appointment
If you are noticing sensitivity to loud noises, it’s important to know that you can get relief. The bonus is that your new hearing aid will make everything sound clearer.
But making an appointment is the starting point. Lots of people who have hearing loss cope with hypersensitivity to loud sound.
It doesn’t have to keep making you miserable.