If you have a partner with untreated hearing loss, you know that getting their attention can be… a challenge. Their name is the first thing you try saying. You say “Greg”, but you get no answer because you used an inside volume level. You try increasing your volume and saying Greg’s name again but he still doesn’t hear you. So you resort to shouting.
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 irritability that create this situation. Individuals with hearing loss frequently report hypersensitivity to loud sound. So it makes sense that Greg gets aggravated when you shout his name after he repeatedly fails to hear you when you talk to him at a normal volume.
Can loud sounds seem louder with hearing loss?
Hearing loss can be a peculiar thing. The majority of time, you’ll hear less and less, particularly if your hearing loss remains unaddressed. But things can get very loud when you’re out at a packed restaurant or watching a Michael Bay movie. So loud that it can become uncomfortable. Maybe the movie suddenly gets really loud 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 aggravated, honestly. Many people will feel like they’re going crazy when they notice this. That’s because they can’t get a handle on how loud things are. Imagine, all of your family, friends, and acquaintances seem to validate you’re losing your hearing, but you have this sudden sensitivity to loud sound. How can that be?
The cause of this noise sensitivity is a condition called auditory recruitment. It works like this:
- The inside of your ears are covered with tiny hairs known as stereocilia. These hairs vibrate when soundwaves enter your ears and this vibration is then converted to sounds by your brain.
- Deterioration of these hairs is what brings about age-related sensorineural hearing loss. Loud sounds can damage the hairs over time, and once they are damaged, they never heal. Consequently, your hearing becomes less sensitive. Your level of hearing loss will be increasingly worse the more hairs that are damaged.
- But this process doesn’t take place evenly. There will be a combination of healthy and damaged hairs.
- So when the damaged 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. So, suddenly, everything is very loud because all of your stereocilia are firing (just as they would with any other loud sound).
Think about it like this: 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 may sound a little familiar. That’s likely because they’re typically confused with a condition called hyperacusis. That confusion is, at first, reasonable. Auditory recruitment is a condition in which you have a sensitivity to loud noises, and hyperacusis is a condition where sounds very suddenly get loud.
But here are a few significant differences:
- While hyperacusis has no connection to hearing loss, there is a direct connection between auditory recruitment and hearing loss.
- When you have hyperacusis, noises that are at an objectively ordinary volume seem extremely loud to you. Think about it this way: A shout will still sound like a shout with auditory recruitment; but with hyperacusis, a whisper may sound like a shout.
- Hyperacusis comes with pain. Literally. Feeling pain is common for people 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 very different conditions.
Can auditory recruitment be treated?
The bad news is that there’s no cure for hearing loss. Once your hearing goes, it’s gone. Treatment of hearing loss can prevent this, largely.
The same is true of auditory recruitment. But here’s the good news, auditory recruitment can be treated successfully. In most cases, that treatment will involve hearing aids. And those hearing aids need to be specially calibrated. So it will be necessary to make an appointment with us.
The precise 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 a really effective treatment.
Successful treatment can only be accomplished with certain types of hearing aids. Over-the-counter hearing aids or sound amplifiers, for example, do not have the necessary technological sophistication and built-in sensitivity, so they won’t be able to deal with your symptoms.
Make an appointment with us
It’s essential that you recognize that you can get relief from your sensitivity to loud sound. You will also get the extra benefit of using a hearing aid to enhance your life’s soundscape.
But making an appointment is the starting point. This hypersensitivity is a natural part of the hearing loss process, it happens to lots and lots of people.
You can get help so call us.