You know that it can be challenging 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 normal, indoor volume level, so you get nothing. You try saying Greg’s name a bit louder and still no reply. So you resort to shouting.
And that’s when Greg spins around with absolutely no awareness of his comedic timing and says crossly, “what are you shouting for?”
This interaction isn’t the result of stubbornness or impatience. Individuals with hearing loss frequently 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 speak to him at a normal volume.
Can loud sounds seem louder with hearing loss?
So, hearing loss is sort of peculiar. Normally, hearing loss will cause your hearing to decline, 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 having dinner in a restaurant, and things will get really loud. Uncomfortably loud. Maybe the movie gets really loud all of a sudden or somebody is yelling to get your attention.
And you’ll wonder why you’re so sensitive to loud noise.
Which can, honestly, put you in a cranky mood. Many people who experience this will feel like they’re going crazy. That’s because they can’t determine how loud anything is. Imagine, all of your family, friends, and acquaintances seem to validate you’re losing your ability to hear, but you have this sudden sensitivity to loud sound. It feels like a contradiction.
A condition called auditory recruitment can trigger these symptoms. Here’s how it works:
- There are tiny hairs, called stereocilia, covering the inside of your ear. When soundwaves enter into your ears, these hairs resonate and your brain translates that signal into sounds.
- Deterioration of these hairs is what causes age-related sensorineural hearing loss. Loud sounds can damage the hairs over time, and once they are damaged, they never heal. Your hearing becomes duller as a result. Your level of hearing loss will be progressively more severe the more hairs that are damaged.
- But this isn’t an evenly occurring process. There is always some combination of damaged hairs and healthy hairs.
- So when you hear a loud noise, the damaged hairs “recruit” the healthy hairs (thus the name of the condition) to send a warning message to your brain. So, suddenly, everything is very loud because all of your stereocilia are firing (just like they would with any other loud noise).
Think about it like this: That Michael Bay explosion is loud while everything else is quiet. 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 called hyperacusis that has comparable symptoms and the two are often confused. That conflation is, initially, reasonable. Both conditions can cause sounds to get really loud all of a sudden.
But here are some considerable differences:
- Hyperacusis is not directly caused by hearing loss. Auditory recruitment certainly is.
- Noises that are normal objectively will sound very loud for somebody who has hyperacusis. Think about it this way: When you’re experiencing auditory recruitment, a shout sounds like a shout; but a whisper can sound like a shout for those who have hyperacusis.
- Hyperacusis comes with 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 a few similar symptoms. But they aren’t the same condition.
Can auditory recruitment be treated?
Here’s the bad news, there’s no cure for hearing loss. Once your hearing goes, it’s gone. Treating hearing loss early will go a long way to prevent this.
This also applies to auditory recruitment. But here’s the good news, auditory recruitment can successfully be treated. In most situations, that treatment will involve hearing aids. And there’s a particular calibration for those hearing aids. That’s why addressing auditory recruitment will almost always require making an appointment with us.
The exact frequencies of sound that are causing your auditory recruitment will be determined. Then your hearing aids will be dialed in to decrease the volume of those frequencies. It’s kind 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).
Only specific types of hearing aid will be effective. Over-the-counter hearing aids or sound amplifiers, for example, do not have the required technological sophistication and built-in sensitivity, so they won’t be able to deal with your symptoms.
Make an appointment with us
It’s essential that you recognize that you can find relief from your sensitivity to loud sound. You will also get the added benefit of using a hearing aid to improve your life’s soundscape.
But it all begins by scheduling an appointment. Lots of people who have hearing loss cope with hypersensitivity to loud sound.
It doesn’t have to keep making you miserable.