You know that it can be challenging to get your partner’s attention if they have untreated hearing loss. Their name is the first thing you try saying. 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 nothing. So finally, you shout.
And that’s when Greg spins around with absolutely no appreciation of his comedic timing and says crossly, “why are you shouting?”
This situation isn’t the result of stubbornness or impatience. Hypersensitivity to loud sound is frequently reported in those with hearing loss. And this sensitivity to loud noises can help illustrate why Greg can’t hear his name at a normal volume but gets aggravated when you shout at him.
Can hearing loss make loud sounds even worse?
So, hearing loss can be kind of curious. Normally, hearing loss will cause your hearing to decline, particularly 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. 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 have this sensitivity to loud noise.
Which can also make you feel a bit cranky, honestly. Many people who experience this will feel like they’re going crazy. They have a hard time identifying how loud things are. You have a sudden sensitivity to loud sounds even as your family and friends are pointing out your very noticeable hearing loss symptoms. How can that be?
The cause of this noise sensitivity is a condition known as auditory recruitment. It works like this:
- There are little hairs, known as stereocilia, covering your inner ear. These hairs vibrate when soundwaves enter your ears and this vibration is then translated to sounds by your brain.
- Age-related “sensorineural” hearing loss occurs as these hairs deteriorate. Over time, these delicate hairs are permanently damaged by repeated exposure to loud sounds. Your hearing becomes more muffled as a result. Your degree of hearing loss will be progressively more severe the more hairs that are compromised.
- But this is not an evenly occurring process. There will be a mixture of healthy and damaged hairs.
- So when you hear a loud noise, 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 very loud.
Think about it this way: That Michael Bay explosion is loud while everything else is quiet. So the Michael Bay explosion will seem louder (and more obnoxious) than it otherwise would!
Sounds like hyperacusis
Those symptoms may 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 cause sounds to get really loud suddenly.
But there are a few key differences:
- Hyperacusis is not directly caused by hearing loss. Auditory recruitment certainly is.
- When you’re dealing with hyperacusis, noises that are at an objectively normal volume seem very loud to you. Think about it like this: A shout will still sound like a shout with auditory recruitment; but a whisper could sound like a shout for those who have hyperacusis.
- Hyperacusis is painful. Literally. Feeling pain is common for individuals who have hyperacusis. With auditory recruitment, that’s usually not the case.
It’s true that hyperacusis and auditory recruitment have a few similar symptoms. But they are not the same condition.
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 largely prevent this.
This also is true for auditory recruitment. Fortunately, there are ways to effectively address auditory recruitment. Usually, hearing aids are part of that treatment. And those hearing aids need to be specifically calibrated. So it will be necessary to schedule an appointment with us.
The exact frequencies of sound that are causing your auditory recruitment will be determined. Your hearing aids can then be calibrated to reduce that wavelength of sound. 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 certain types of hearing aid will be successful. Over-the-counter hearing aids or sound amplifiers, for instance, don’t have the required technological sophistication and built-in sensitivity, so they won’t be able to deal with your symptoms.
Contact us for an appointment
It’s essential that you recognize that you can find relief from your sensitivity to loud noise. 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 typical part of the hearing loss process, it happens to lots and lots of people.
It doesn’t need to keep making you miserable.