If you have a partner with untreated hearing loss, you know that getting their attention can be… a problem. Their name is the first thing you try saying. “Greg”, you say, but you used a normal, indoor volume level, so you get nothing. 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, “what are you shouting for?”
It’s not just stubbornness and impatience that cause this situation. Hypersensitivity to loud sound is often documented in those with hearing loss. And this sensitivity to loud noises can help explain why Greg doesn’t hear his name at a normal volume but gets cranky when you shout at him.
Can loud sounds seem louder with hearing loss?
Hearing loss can be a peculiar thing. Normally, hearing loss will cause your hearing to diminish, 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 having dinner in a restaurant, and things will get really loud. Uncomfortably loud. Maybe it’s someone yelling to get your attention or one of the explosions in the latest Transformers film, it just becomes really loud really fast.
And you’ll think: Why am I so sensitive to loud noise?
Which can also make you feel a bit cranky, honestly. Many individuals who notice this will feel like they’re going mad. That’s because they can’t determine how loud things are. You have a sudden sensitivity to loud sounds even as your friends and family are pointing out your very obvious hearing loss symptoms. It feels like a contradiction.
A condition known as auditory recruitment can cause these symptoms. It works like this:
- There are little hairs, known as stereocilia, that cover your inner ear. When soundwaves enter into your ears, these hairs vibrate and your brain translates that signal into sounds.
- Damage to these hairs is what causes age-related sensorineural hearing loss. Over time, these fragile 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 will be a combination of healthy and damaged hairs.
- So when the impaired hairs are exposed to a loud sound, the healthy hairs are “recruited” (thus the condition’s name) to send a message of alarm to your brain. Suddenly, all of the stereocilia fire, and everything becomes really loud.
Think about it this way: everything is quiet except for the Michael Bay explosion. So it will seem louder, when that Michael Bay explosion happens, than it normally would.
Isn’t that the same as hyperacusis?
Those symptoms may sound a little familiar. There is a condition called hyperacusis that has similar symptoms and the two are often confused. That confusion is, initially, understandable. Both conditions can cause sounds to get really loud suddenly.
But there are some key differences:
- While hyperacusis has no connection to hearing loss, there is a direct connection between auditory recruitment and hearing loss.
- Noises that are normal objectively will sound very loud for someone who has hyperacusis. Think about it this way: A shout will still sound like a shout when you have auditory recruitment; but with hyperacusis, a whisper may sound like a shout.
- Hyperacusis is painful. Literally. Most individuals who cope with hyperacusis report feelings of pain. That’s not always the situation with auditory recruitment.
At the end of the day, auditory recruitment and hyperacusis have some superficially 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. Your hearing will never return once it’s gone. Treating hearing loss early will go a long way to prevent this.
This also applies to auditory recruitment. Luckily, there are ways to successfully address auditory recruitment. In most situations, that treatment will involve hearing aids. And those hearing aids need to be specifically calibrated. That’s why addressing auditory recruitment will almost always require making an appointment with us.
We’ll be able to determine the specific wavelengths of sound that are responsible for your auditory recruitment symptoms. Your hearing aids can then be adjusted to diminish that wavelength of sound. It’s a very effective treatment.
Only specific 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.
Schedule an appointment with us
If you are noticing sensitivity to loud noises, it’s important to recognize that you can get relief. You will also get the extra benefit of using a hearing aid to enhance your life’s soundscape.
But making an appointment is the first step. This hypersensitivity is a natural part of the hearing loss process, it happens to lots and lots of people.
It doesn’t need to keep making you miserable.