You know that it can be a challenge to get your partner’s attention if they have untreated hearing loss. First, you try to use their name. “Greg”, you say, but you used a standard, indoor volume level, so you get no reply. You try saying Greg’s name a little louder and still no reply. So finally, you shout.
And that’s when Greg spins around with absolutely no awareness of his comedic timing and says crossly, “what are you shouting for?”
It’s not just stubbornness and irritability that create this situation. Hypersensitivity to loud sound is often documented in those who have hearing loss. So it makes sense that Greg gets cranky when you shout his name after he repeatedly fails to hear you when you speak to him at a normal volume.
Can loud sounds seem louder with hearing loss?
Hearing loss can be a strange thing. The majority of time, you’ll hear less and less, especially if your hearing loss goes unaddressed. But every once in a while, you’ll watch a Michael Bay movie, or be having a conversation, or be having dinner in a restaurant, and things will get really noisy. Uncomfortably loud. Maybe the movie suddenly gets really loud or someone is shouting to get your attention.
And you’ll think: Why am I so sensitive to loud noise?
Which can also make you feel a little aggravated, honestly. Many individuals will feel like they’re going crazy when they experience this. They have a difficult time determining how loud things are. You have a sudden sensitivity to loud sounds even as your friends and family are pointing out your very obvious hearing loss symptoms. How can that be?
The cause of this sound sensitivity is a condition called auditory recruitment. Here’s how it works:
- The inside of your ears are covered with tiny hairs known as stereocilia. When soundwaves enter your ears, these hairs resonate and your brain converts that signal into sounds.
- Age-related “sensorineural” hearing loss happens as these hairs deteriorate. Over time, these fragile hairs are permanently damaged by repeated exposure to loud sounds. Your hearing becomes more muffled as a result. The more damaged hairs you have, the less you can hear.
- But this isn’t an evenly occurring process. There will be a combination of healthy and damaged hairs.
- So when the impaired hairs are exposed to a loud sound, the healthy hairs are “recruited” (hence the condition’s name) to send a message of alarm to your brain. So, all of a sudden, everything gets really loud because all of your stereocilia are firing (just like they would with any other loud sound).
Think about it this way: everything is quiet except for the Michael Bay explosion. So it’s going to seem louder, when that Michael Bay explosion happens, than it normally would.
Isn’t that the same as hyperacusis?
You may think that these symptoms sound a bit familiar. There is a condition called hyperacusis that has comparable symptoms and the two are frequently confused. When you first compare them, this confusion is understandable. Both conditions can cause sounds to get really loud all of a sudden.
But here are some significant differences:
- Hyperacusis isn’t directly caused by 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: 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 individuals who cope with hyperacusis report feelings of pain. That’s not always the case with auditory recruitment.
It’s true that hyperacusis and auditory recruitment have some similar symptoms. But they are quite different conditions.
Can auditory recruitment be managed?
There isn’t any cure for hearing loss and that’s the bad news. Once your hearing is gone, it’s gone. Treatment of hearing loss can prevent this, largely.
This also is true for auditory recruitment. Luckily, there are ways to successfully manage auditory recruitment. Typically, hearing aids are at the center of that treatment. And those hearing aids have to be specifically calibrated. That’s why addressing auditory recruitment will almost always require making an appointment with us.
We’ll be able to identify the specific wavelengths of sound that are responsible for your auditory recruitment symptoms. Then your hearing aids will be dialed in to reduce 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 effectively is what we’re trying to communicate here).
Successful treatment will only work with certain types of hearing aids. Over-the-counter hearing aids or sound amplifiers, for instance, do not have the necessary technological sophistication and built-in sensitivity, so they won’t be able to address your symptoms.
Schedule an appointment with us
It’s essential that you know that you can find relief from your sensitivity to loud sound. The bonus is that your new hearing aid will make everything sound better.
But making an appointment is the first step. This hypersensitivity is a natural part of the hearing loss process, it happens to lots and lots of people.
You can get help so call us.