If you have a partner with neglected hearing loss, you realize that getting their attention can be… a problem. Their name is the first thing you try saying. “Greg”, you say, but you used a standard, inside volume level, so you get nothing. You try saying Greg’s name a bit louder and still nothing. So finally, you shout.
Well this time Greg hears you and crossly asks what you’re shouting for.
This interaction isn’t the result of stubbornness or irritability. Hypersensitivity to loud sound is frequently documented in those who have hearing loss. And this sensitivity to loud noises can help illustrate why Greg can’t hear his name at a normal volume but gets cranky when you shout at him.
Can loud sounds seem louder with hearing loss?
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 eating in a restaurant, and things will get really noisy. So loud that it can become uncomfortable. Maybe the movie gets really loud all of a sudden or someone 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 notice this will feel like they’re going crazy. That’s because they can’t determine how loud things are. Imagine, all of your family, friends, and acquaintances seem to confirm you’re losing your hearing, 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:
- The inside of your ears are covered in tiny hairs called stereocilia. When soundwaves enter into your ears, these hairs vibrate and your brain converts that signal into sounds.
- Damage to these hairs is what brings about age-related sensorineural hearing loss. Over time, these delicate hairs are permanently damaged by frequent exposure to loud sounds. Consequently, your hearing becomes less sensitive. The more damaged hairs you have, the less you’re able to 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 sound, the damaged hairs “recruit” the healthy hairs (hence the name of the condition) to send an alarmed message to your brain. So, all of a sudden, everything is very loud because all of your stereocilia are firing (just as they would with any other loud sound).
Think about it this way: everything is quiet except for the Michael Bay explosion. So the Michael Bay explosion will seem louder (and more obnoxious) than it otherwise would!
Sounds a lot like hyperacusis
Those symptoms may sound a little familiar. There is a condition called hyperacusis that has similar symptoms and the two are frequently confused. That confusion is, at first, reasonable. Auditory recruitment is a condition in which you have a sensitivity to loud sounds, and hyperacusis is a condition in which sounds very suddenly get loud.
But there are a few key differences:
- While hyperacusis has no link to hearing loss, there is a direct link between auditory recruitment and hearing loss.
- When you have hyperacusis, noises that are at an objectively ordinary volume seem really loud to you. 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 causes pain. Literally. Feeling pain is common for people with hyperacusis. With auditory recruitment, that’s typically not the case.
It’s true that hyperacusis and auditory recruitment have a few 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 come back once it goes. Managing hearing loss early will go a long way to prevent this.
The same is true of auditory recruitment. Luckily, there are ways to successfully address auditory recruitment. In most cases, that treatment will include hearing aids. And there’s a specific calibration for those hearing aids. 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. Then your hearing aids will be dialed in to lower the volume of those wavelengths. It’s a very effective treatment.
Only specific types of hearing aid will be effective. Over-the-counter hearing aids or sound amplifiers, for instance, do not have the necessary technological sophistication and built-in sensitivity, so they won’t be able to deal with your symptoms.
Reach out to us for an appointment
It’s essential that you know that you can get relief from your sensitivity to loud sound. The bonus is that your new hearing aid will make everything sound clearer.
But making an appointment is the first step. This hypersensitivity is a normal part of the hearing loss process, it happens to lots and lots of people.
It doesn’t have to keep making you miserable.