If you have a partner with neglected hearing loss, you know that getting their attention can be… a problem. First, you try to say their name. “Greg”, you say, but you used a normal, indoor volume level, so you get no reply. You try saying Greg’s name a bit louder and still nothing. So you resort to shouting.
And that’s when Greg whirls around with absolutely no awareness of his comedic timing and says grouchily, “why are you shouting?”
This situation 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 explain why Greg can’t hear his name at a normal volume but gets aggravated when you shout at him.
Can hearing loss make loud sounds even worse?
Hearing loss can be a strange thing. Typical, hearing loss will cause your hearing to decline, especially 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 someone is yelling to get your attention.
And you’ll wonder why you’re so sensitive to loud noise.
Which can also make you feel a little cranky, honestly. Many people will feel like they’re going crazy when they notice this. They have a hard time figuring out how loud things are. You have a sudden sensitivity to loud sounds even as your family and friends are pointing out your very noticeable hearing loss symptoms. It feels like a contradiction.
A condition known as auditory recruitment can cause these symptoms. It works like this:
- The inside of your ears are covered with tiny hairs called stereocilia. These hairs resonate when soundwaves enter your ears and this vibration is then converted to sounds by your brain.
- Deterioration of these hairs is what produces age-related sensorineural hearing loss. Loud sounds can degrade the hairs over time, and once they are damaged, they are unable to heal. Your hearing becomes duller as a result. The more damaged hairs you have, the less you can hear.
- But this isn’t an evenly occurring process. There is always some combination of damaged and healthy hairs.
- So when you hear a loud sound, the impaired hairs “recruit” the healthy hairs (thus the name of the condition) to send an alarmed message to your brain. Suddenly, all of the stereocilia fire, and everything gets very loud.
Think about it this way: That Michael Bay explosion is loud but everything else is quiet. So it will seem louder, when that Michael Bay explosion happens, than it normally would.
Sounds a lot like hyperacusis
Those symptoms might sound a little familiar. That’s likely because they’re often confused with a condition called hyperacusis. That conflation is, at first, reasonable. Auditory recruitment is a condition where you have a sensitivity to loud sounds, and hyperacusis is a condition where sounds very suddenly get loud.
But there are a few key differences:
- Hyperacusis isn’t 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 like this: A shout will still sound like a shout when you have auditory recruitment; but with hyperacusis, a whisper might sound like a shout.
- Hyperacusis is painful. Literally. Most people who cope with hyperacusis report feeling pain. With auditory recruitment, that’s usually not the situation.
It’s true that hyperacusis and auditory recruitment have a few similar symptoms. But they are very different conditions.
Is there any treatment for audio recruitment?
There’s no cure for hearing loss and that’s the bad news. Once your hearing goes, it’s gone. Addressing hearing loss early will go a long way to prevent this.
The same goes for auditory recruitment. But here’s the good news, auditory recruitment can be treated successfully. In most cases, that treatment will include hearing aids. And there’s a specific calibration for those hearing aids. That’s why addressing auditory recruitment will almost always require scheduling an appointment with us.
We’ll be able to identify the specific wavelengths of sound that are responsible for your auditory recruitment symptoms. Your hearing aids can then be adjusted to reduce 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 well is what we’re trying to convey here).
Only specific types of hearing aid will be effective. Over-the-counter hearing aids or sound amplifiers, for instance, don’t have the necessary technological sophistication and built-in sensitivity, so they won’t be able to deal with your symptoms.
Call us for an appointment
If you are experiencing sensitivity to loud sounds, it’s important to recognize that you can get relief. You will also get the extra benefit of using a hearing aid to improve your life’s soundscape.
But making an appointment is the first step. Lots of people who have hearing loss deal with hypersensitivity to loud noise.
You can get help so call us.