If you have a partner with untreated hearing loss, you know that getting their attention can be… a challenge. First, you try to say their name. You say “Greg”, but you get no answer because you used an indoor volume level. 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 recognition of his comedic timing and says crossly, “why are you shouting?”
This situation isn’t the result of stubbornness or irritability. 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 hearing loss make loud sounds even worse?
So, hearing loss can be sort of peculiar. Usually, hearing loss will cause your hearing to diminish, particularly if it goes untreated. But every once in a while, 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. So loud that it can become uncomfortable. Maybe the movie suddenly gets really loud or somebody 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 cranky, honestly. Many individuals who experience this will feel like they’re going mad. They have a hard 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 noticeable hearing loss symptoms. It feels like a contradiction.
A condition known as auditory recruitment can cause these symptoms. this is how it works:
- There are tiny hairs, known as stereocilia, covering the inside of your ear. These hairs vibrate when soundwaves enter your ears and this vibration is then translated to sounds by your brain.
- Damage to these hairs is what produces age-related sensorineural hearing loss. Over time, these fragile hairs are permanently damaged by repeated exposure to loud sounds. Consequently, your hearing becomes less sensitive. The more compromised hairs you have, the less you can hear.
- But this is not an evenly occurring process. There is always some combination of damaged and healthy hairs.
- So when you hear a loud noise, the impaired hairs “recruit” the healthy hairs (thus the name of the condition) to send an alarmed message to your brain. All of a sudden, all of the stereocilia fire, and everything gets really loud.
Think about it this way: everything is quiet except for the Michael Bay explosion. So it will seem louder, when that Michael Bay explosion occurs, than it normally would.
Isn’t that the same as hyperacusis?
Those symptoms might sound a little familiar. That’s most likely because they’re often confused with a condition called hyperacusis. That conflation is, initially, understandable. Auditory recruitment is a condition where you have a sensitivity to loud noises, and hyperacusis is a condition where sounds very abruptly get loud.
But here are a few considerable differences:
- Hyperacusis is not directly caused by hearing loss. Auditory recruitment absolutely is.
- Noises that are normal objectively will sound really 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 could sound like a shout with hyperacusis.
- Hyperacusis is painful. Literally. Most individuals who cope with hyperacusis report feeling pain. With auditory recruitment, that’s typically not the situation.
It’s true that hyperacusis and auditory recruitment have a few similar symptoms. But they are not the same condition.
Can auditory recruitment be treated?
There isn’t any cure for hearing loss and that’s the bad news. Your hearing will never come back once it goes. Treatment of hearing loss can largely prevent this.
This also applies to auditory recruitment. Fortunately, there are ways to effectively manage auditory recruitment. Normally, hearing aids are part of that treatment. And there’s a particular calibration for those hearing aids. So it will be necessary to make an appointment with us.
We’ll be able to determine the particular wavelengths of sound that are causing your auditory recruitment symptoms. Then your hearing aids will be dialed in to decrease the volume of those frequencies. It’s a very effective treatment.
Only certain types of hearing aid will be successful. Over-the-counter hearing aids or sound amplifiers, for example, do not have the required technological sophistication and built-in sensitivity, so they will not be able to deal with your symptoms.
Contact us for an appointment
If you are noticing sensitivity to loud noises, it’s important to realize that you can find relief. You will also get the additional benefit of using a hearing aid to improve your life’s soundscape.
But it all starts by making an appointment. This hypersensitivity is a natural part of the hearing loss process, it happens to lots and lots of people.
It doesn’t need to keep making you miserable.