You know that it can be a challenge to get your partner’s attention if they have neglected hearing loss. First, you try to use their name. “Greg”, you say, but you used a normal, inside volume level, so you get no reply. You try increasing your volume and saying Greg’s name again but he still doesn’t respond. So finally, you shout.
Well this time Greg hears you and grouchily asks what you’re shouting for.
It’s not just stubbornness and irritability that create this situation. People with hearing loss frequently report hypersensitivity to loud sound. And this sensitivity to loud noises can help explain why Greg doesn’t hear his name at a normal volume but gets aggravated when you shout at him.
Can loud sounds seem louder with hearing loss?
So, hearing loss can be kind of peculiar. Typical, hearing loss will cause your hearing to diminish, especially if it goes untreated. But things can get very loud when you’re out at a busy restaurant or watching a Michael Bay movie. Uncomfortably loud. Maybe the movie suddenly gets really loud or someone is shouting to get your attention.
And you’ll think: What’s causing this sensitivity to loud noise?
Which can, honestly, put you in an irritable mood. Many individuals who notice this will feel like they’re going mad. That’s because they can’t determine how loud things are. Imagine, all of your friends, family, 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 known as auditory recruitment can trigger these symptoms. It works like this:
- There are little hairs, known as stereocilia, that cover your inner ear. When soundwaves enter your ears, these hairs vibrate and your brain translates that signal into sounds.
- Deterioration of these hairs is what causes age-related sensorineural hearing loss. Loud sounds can degrade the hairs over time, and once they are damaged, they never heal. As a result, your hearing becomes less sensitive. The more damaged hairs you have, the less you’re able to hear.
- But this process doesn’t take place evenly. There will be a mixture of healthy and damaged hairs.
- So when you hear a loud sound, the impaired hairs “recruit” the healthy hairs (hence the name of the condition) to send a warning message to your brain. All of a sudden, all of the stereocilia fire, and everything becomes really loud.
Think about it like this: That Michael Bay explosion is loud but everything else is quiet. So it’s going to seem louder, when that Michael Bay explosion happens, than it normally would.
Isn’t that the same as hyperacusis?
Those symptoms might sound a little familiar. There is a condition known as hyperacusis that has comparable symptoms and the two are often confused. That confusion is, initially, reasonable. Both conditions can make sounds very loud all of a sudden.
But here are a few considerable differences:
- While hyperacusis has no connection to hearing loss, there is a direct link between auditory recruitment and hearing loss.
- Noises that are normal objectively will sound really loud for somebody who has hyperacusis. Think about it this way: When you have auditory recruitment, a shout sounds like a shout; but when you have hyperacusis, a whisper might sound like a shout.
- Hyperacusis causes pain. Literally. Feeling pain is common for people with hyperacusis. With auditory recruitment, that’s typically not the situation.
It’s true that hyperacusis and auditory recruitment have some similar symptoms. But they are quite different conditions.
Is there any treatment for audio recruitment?
There’s no cure for hearing loss and that’s the bad news. Your hearing will never return once it goes. Treating hearing loss early will go a long way to prevent this.
The same goes for auditory recruitment. Fortunately, there are ways to successfully manage auditory recruitment. In most situations, that treatment will include hearing aids. And those hearing aids have to be specifically calibrated. That’s why treating auditory recruitment will nearly always require making an appointment with us.
The exact frequencies of sound that are causing your auditory recruitment will be identified. Your hearing aids can then be adjusted to diminish 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 effectively is what we’re trying to convey here).
Successful treatment will only be accomplished with certain types of hearing aids. Over-the-counter hearing aids or sound amplifiers, for example, don’t have the necessary technological sophistication and built-in sensitivity, so they will not 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 noise. You will also get the added benefit of using a hearing aid to improve your life’s soundscape.
But making an appointment is the first step. This hypersensitivity is a typical part of the hearing loss process, it happens to many, many people.
It doesn’t have to keep making you miserable.