If you have a partner with neglected hearing loss, you appreciate that getting their attention can be… a problem. First, you try to use their name. “Greg”, you say, but you used a standard, inside volume level, so you get no reply. You try saying Greg’s name a bit louder and still nothing. So finally, you shout.
And that’s when Greg whirls around with absolutely no appreciation of his comedic timing and says crossly, “what are you shouting for?”
It’s not just stubbornness and irritability that cause this situation. Hypersensitivity to loud sound is often reported in those with hearing loss. So it seems logical that Greg gets cranky when you shout his name after he continually 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 peculiar. Normally, hearing loss will cause your hearing to decline, particularly if it goes untreated. But things can get really loud when you’re out at a crowded restaurant or watching a Michael Bay movie. Uncomfortably loud. Maybe the movie gets really loud all of a sudden or somebody is shouting to get your attention.
And you’ll wonder why you’re so sensitive to loud noise.
Which can also make you feel a bit cranky, honestly. Many people who notice this will feel like they’re going mad. That’s because they can’t determine how loud things are. You have a sudden sensitivity to loud sounds even as your friends and family are pointing out your very noticeable hearing loss symptoms. It feels like a contradiction.
A condition known as auditory recruitment can trigger these symptoms. It works like this:
- There are little hairs, called stereocilia, that cover the inside of your ear. These hairs resonate when soundwaves enter your ears and this vibration is then converted to sounds by your brain.
- Age-related “sensorineural” hearing loss takes place as these hairs deteriorate. Over time, these little hairs are permanently damaged by frequent exposure to loud sounds. Consequently, your hearing becomes less sensitive. The more compromised hairs you have, the less you’re able to hear.
- But this process doesn’t happen evenly. There will be a combination of healthy and damaged hairs.
- So when the damaged hairs are exposed to a loud noise, the healthy hairs are “recruited” (thus the condition’s name) to send a message of alarm to your brain. So, all of a sudden, everything gets very loud because all of your stereocilia are firing (just as they would with any other loud noise).
Think about it like this: That Michael Bay explosion is loud but 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 may think that these symptoms sound a little familiar. There is a condition called hyperacusis that has similar symptoms and the two are often confused. That confusion is, initially, understandable. 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 here are a few substantial differences:
- Hyperacusis isn’t directly caused by hearing loss. Auditory recruitment absolutely is.
- Noises that are normal objectively will sound very loud for someone who has hyperacusis. Think about it this way: When you have auditory recruitment, a shout sounds like a shout; but with hyperacusis, a whisper could sound like a shout.
- Hyperacusis comes with pain. Literally. Most people who experience hyperacusis report feelings of pain. With auditory recruitment, that’s usually not the case.
Overall, auditory recruitment and hyperacusis have some superficially similar symptoms. But they are not the same condition.
Is there any way to treat audio recruitment?
There’s no cure for hearing loss and that’s the bad news. Your hearing will never return once it goes. Addressing hearing loss early will go a long way to protect against this.
The same is true of auditory recruitment. But here’s the good news, auditory recruitment can successfully be treated. In most situations, that treatment will include hearing aids. And there’s a specific calibration for those hearing aids. So it will be necessary to make an appointment with us.
We’ll be able to identify the specific wavelengths of sound that are causing your auditory recruitment symptoms. Your hearing aids can then be adjusted to reduce that wavelength of sound. It’s a very effective treatment.
Only specific types of hearing aid will be successful. The symptoms can’t be managed with over-the-counter hearing devices because they lack the technological sophistication.
Schedule an appointment with us
If you are noticing sensitivity to loud noises, it’s important to realize that you can find relief. The bonus is that your new hearing aid will make everything sound clearer.
But it all begins by scheduling 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.