You know that it can be a challenge to get your partner’s attention if they have untreated hearing loss. First, you try to use their name. “Greg”, you say, but you used a regular, indoor volume level, so you get nothing. You try raising your volume and saying Greg’s name again but he still doesn’t respond. So you resort to shouting.
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 reported in those with 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 worse?
Hearing loss can be a peculiar thing. Usually, hearing loss will cause your hearing to decline, 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 eating in a restaurant, and things will get really loud. Uncomfortably loud. Maybe the movie suddenly gets really loud or somebody is yelling 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 individuals will feel like they’re going mad when they experience this. That’s because they can’t determine how loud anything is. Imagine, all of your friends, family, and acquaintances seem to validate you’re losing your hearing, but you have this sudden sensitivity to loud sound. It feels like a contradiction.
The cause of this sound sensitivity is a condition called auditory recruitment. Here’s how it works:
- There are little hairs, known as stereocilia, that cover the inside of your ear. When soundwaves enter into your ears, these hairs resonate and your brain converts that signal into sounds.
- Deterioration of these hairs is what causes age-related sensorineural hearing loss. Over time, these little hairs are permanently damaged by frequent exposure to loud sounds. Your hearing becomes more muffled as a result. Your degree of hearing loss will be increasingly worse the more hairs that are damaged.
- But this process doesn’t occur evenly. There is always some mixture of damaged hairs and healthy hairs.
- So when you hear a loud noise, the damaged hairs “recruit” the healthy hairs (thus the name of the condition) to send an alarmed message to your brain. So, suddenly, everything gets really loud because all of your stereocilia are firing (just like they would with any other loud sound).
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 may sound a little familiar. That’s probably because they’re frequently confused with a condition known as hyperacusis. When you first compare them, this confusion is understandable. Both conditions can make sounds really loud suddenly.
But here are some substantial differences:
- Hyperacusis isn’t directly related to hearing loss. Auditory recruitment definitely is.
- When you’re dealing with 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 with hyperacusis.
- Hyperacusis is painful. Literally. Feeling pain is common for people who have hyperacusis. With auditory recruitment, that’s typically not the situation.
It’s true that hyperacusis and auditory recruitment have some similar symptoms. But they aren’t the same condition.
Can auditory recruitment be treated?
Here’s the bad news, there’s no cure for hearing loss. Your hearing will never come back once it’s gone. Addressing hearing loss early will go a long way to prevent this.
The same is true of auditory recruitment. Fortunately, there are ways to effectively manage auditory recruitment. In most situations, 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 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 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).
Effective treatment can only be accomplished with specific types of hearing aids. 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 address your symptoms.
Make an appointment with us
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 natural part of the hearing loss process, it happens to many, many people.
You can get help so call us.