You know that it can be difficult to get your partner’s attention if they have neglected hearing loss. Their name is the first thing you try saying. You say “Greg”, but you get no response because you used an indoor volume level. You try increasing your volume and saying Greg’s name again but he still doesn’t hear you. So finally, you shout.
And that’s when Greg spins around with absolutely no appreciation of his comedic timing and says grouchily, “why are you shouting?”
It’s not just stubbornness and impatience that create this situation. People with hearing loss often report hypersensitivity to loud sound. So it seems logical that Greg gets aggravated when you shout his name after he continually fails to hear you when you talk to him at a normal volume.
Can hearing loss make loud sounds even worse?
So, hearing loss can be kind of peculiar. The vast majority of time, you’ll hear less and less, particularly if your hearing loss goes unaddressed. 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 yelling 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 people who experience this will feel like they’re going mad. That’s because they can’t get a handle on how loud anything is. 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?
A condition known as auditory recruitment can trigger these symptoms. It works like this:
- The interior of your ears are covered in tiny hairs known as stereocilia. These hairs vibrate when soundwaves enter your ears and this vibration is then converted to sounds by your brain.
- Age-related “sensorineural” hearing loss happens as these hairs are damaged. Loud sounds can degrade the hairs over time, and once they are injured, they never heal. Your hearing becomes more muffled as a result. The more compromised hairs you have, the less you’re able to hear.
- But this process doesn’t occur evenly. There is always some combination of damaged and healthy hairs.
- So when the impaired hairs are exposed to a loud sound, the healthy hairs are “recruited” (hence the condition’s name) to send a message of alarm to your brain. Suddenly, all of the stereocilia fire, and everything gets very loud.
Think about it like this: everything is quiet except for the Michael Bay explosion. So the Michael Bay explosion is going to seem louder (and more obnoxious) than it otherwise would!
Sounds a lot like hyperacusis
You may think that these symptoms sound a little familiar. That’s likely because they’re often confused with a condition called hyperacusis. That confusion is, at first, 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 certainly is.
- Noises that are normal objectively will seem very loud for somebody who has hyperacusis. Think about it this way: A shout will still sound like a shout when you have auditory recruitment; but a whisper could sound like a shout with hyperacusis.
- Hyperacusis comes with pain. Literally. Feeling pain is common for individuals with hyperacusis. That’s not necessarily the case with auditory recruitment.
At the end of the day, auditory recruitment and hyperacusis have some superficially similar symptoms. But they are not the same condition.
Can auditory recruitment be treated?
The bad news is that there’s no cure for hearing loss. Your hearing will never come back once it’s gone. Treatment of hearing loss can largely prevent this.
This also applies to auditory recruitment. Fortunately, there are ways to effectively address auditory recruitment. Normally, hearing aids are at the center 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 specific wavelengths of sound that are responsible for 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. The symptoms can’t be managed with over-the-counter hearing devices because they lack the technological sophistication.
Contact us for an appointment
If you are experiencing sensitivity to loud noises, it’s important to recognize that you can get relief. You will also get the additional benefit of using a hearing aid to improve your life’s soundscape.
But scheduling an appointment is the first step. Many people who have hearing loss cope with hypersensitivity to loud sound.
It doesn’t have to keep making you miserable.