If you have a partner with untreated hearing loss, you appreciate that getting their attention can be… a struggle. First, you try to say their name. “Greg”, you say, but you used a regular, indoor volume level, so you get no reply. 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 awareness of his comedic timing and says crossly, “why are you shouting?”
It’s not just stubbornness and irritability that cause this situation. People with hearing loss often report hypersensitivity to loud sound. And this sensitivity to loud noises can help explain why Greg can’t hear his name at a normal volume but gets cranky when you shout at him.
Can hearing loss make loud sounds worse?
So, hearing loss is kind of curious. The vast majority of time, you’ll hear less and less, especially if your hearing loss goes untreated. But every now and then, 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 it’s somebody shouting to get your attention or one of the explosions in the latest Transformers film, it just becomes really loud really fast.
And you’ll wonder why you’re so sensitive to loud noise.
Which can, honestly, put you in a cranky mood. Many individuals will feel like they’re going mad when they experience this. They have a hard time identifying 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. How can that be?
The cause of this noise sensitivity is a condition called auditory recruitment. Here’s how it works:
- The inside of your ears are covered with tiny hairs called stereocilia. When soundwaves enter your ears, these hairs vibrate and your brain converts that signal into sounds.
- Deterioration of these hairs is what causes age-related sensorineural hearing loss. Loud sounds can degrade the hairs over time, and once they are damaged, they are unable to heal. Consequently, your hearing becomes less sensitive. Your degree of hearing loss will be progressively more severe the more hairs that are compromised.
- 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” (hence the condition’s name) to send a message of alarm to your brain. All of a sudden, all of the stereocilia fire, and everything becomes very loud.
Think about it this way: That Michael Bay explosion is loud while everything else is quiet. So the Michael Bay explosion is going to seem louder (and more obnoxious) than it otherwise would!
Isn’t that exactly like hyperacusis?
You might think that these symptoms sound a little familiar. There is a condition known as hyperacusis that has comparable symptoms and the two are frequently confused. That conflation is, initially, reasonable. Both conditions can cause sounds to get really loud all of a sudden.
But here are a few considerable differences:
- Hyperacusis is not directly related to hearing loss. Auditory recruitment certainly 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: A shout will still sound like a shout when you have auditory recruitment; but when you have hyperacusis, a whisper may sound like a shout.
- Hyperacusis causes pain. Literally. Most people who experience hyperacusis report feelings of pain. That’s not necessarily the situation with auditory recruitment.
At the end of the day, auditory recruitment and hyperacusis have a few superficially similar symptoms. But they are not the same condition.
Is there any way to treat audio recruitment?
The bad news is that there’s no cure for hearing loss. Once your hearing is gone, it’s gone. Treatment of hearing loss can prevent this, largely.
This also applies to auditory recruitment. Fortunately, there are ways to effectively address auditory recruitment. Typically, hearing aids are part of that treatment. And there’s a specific calibration for those hearing aids. So it will be necessary to schedule an appointment with us.
The precise frequencies of sound that are causing your auditory recruitment will be identified. Your hearing aids can then be calibrated 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 required technological sophistication and built-in sensitivity, so they won’t be able to deal with your symptoms.
Call us for an appointment
It’s essential that you know that you can find relief from your sensitivity to loud noise. You will also get the extra benefit of using a hearing aid to improve your life’s soundscape.
But making an appointment is the starting point. This hypersensitivity is a typical part of the hearing loss process, it happens to lots and lots of people.
It doesn’t need to keep making you miserable.