You know that it can be difficult to get your partner’s attention if they have neglected hearing loss. 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 raising your volume and saying Greg’s name again but he still doesn’t hear you. So finally, you shout.
And that’s when Greg whirls around with absolutely no recognition of his comedic timing and says crossly, “what are you shouting for?”
It’s not just stubbornness and impatience that create this interaction. Hypersensitivity to loud sound is frequently reported in those with hearing loss. So it makes sense that Greg gets cranky when you shout his name after he continually fails to hear you when you speak to him at a normal volume.
Can loud sounds seem louder with hearing loss?
Hearing loss can be a peculiar thing. The vast majority of time, you’ll hear less and less, especially if your hearing loss remains untreated. But every now and then, you’ll watch a Michael Bay movie, or be talking with someone, or be having dinner in a restaurant, and things will get really noisy. Uncomfortably loud. Maybe the movie gets really loud all of a sudden or somebody is shouting to get your attention.
And you’ll wonder why you have this sensitivity to loud noise.
Which can, truthfully, put you in a cranky mood. Many people will feel like they’re going mad when they notice this. They have a difficult time determining how loud things are. You have a sudden sensitivity to loud sounds even as your friends and family are pointing out your very noticeable hearing loss symptoms. It feels like a contradiction.
The cause of this sound sensitivity is a condition known as auditory recruitment. It works like this:
- There are tiny hairs, known as stereocilia, covering the inside of your ear. These hairs vibrate when soundwaves enter your ears and this vibration is then converted to sounds by your brain.
- Age-related “sensorineural” hearing loss happens as these hairs are damaged. Loud sounds can damage the hairs over time, and once they are damaged, they are unable to heal. Your hearing becomes more muffled as a result. Your degree of hearing loss will be progressively more severe the more hairs that are compromised.
- But this process doesn’t take place evenly. There will be a combination of healthy and damaged hairs.
- So when you hear a loud sound, the damaged hairs “recruit” the healthy hairs (hence the name of the condition) to send an alarmed message to your brain. All of a sudden, all of the stereocilia fire, and everything becomes really loud.
Think about it this way: That Michael Bay explosion is loud but everything else is quiet. So the Michael Bay explosion is going to seem louder (and more obnoxious) than it otherwise would!
Sounds a lot like hyperacusis
You might think that these symptoms sound a bit familiar. There is a condition called hyperacusis that has comparable symptoms and the two are frequently confused. When you first compare them, this confusion is easy to understand. Auditory recruitment is a condition where you have a sensitivity to loud sounds, and hyperacusis is a condition in which sounds very abruptly get loud.
But here are some significant differences:
- While hyperacusis has no link to hearing loss, there is a direct link between auditory recruitment and hearing loss.
- When you have hyperacusis, noises that are at an objectively normal volume seem very loud to you. Think about it like this: When you’re experiencing auditory recruitment, a shout sounds like a shout; but when you have hyperacusis, a whisper may sound like a shout.
- Hyperacusis is painful. Literally. Feeling pain is common for individuals with hyperacusis. That’s not necessarily the situation with auditory recruitment.
Overall, auditory recruitment and hyperacusis have a few superficially similar symptoms. But they aren’t the same condition.
Is there any way to treat audio recruitment?
There’s no cure for hearing loss and that’s the bad news. Your hearing will never return once it goes. Treatment of hearing loss can largely prevent this.
This also is true for auditory recruitment. But here’s the good news, auditory recruitment can successfully be treated. Usually, hearing aids are part of that treatment. And those hearing aids have to be specially calibrated. So it will be necessary to make an appointment with us.
We’ll be able to determine the particular wavelengths of sound that are causing your auditory recruitment symptoms. 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 effectively is what we’re trying to convey here).
Effective treatment will only be accomplished with certain types of hearing aids. The symptoms can’t be addressed with over-the-counter hearing devices because they lack the technological sophistication.
Make an appointment with us
It’s essential that you know that you can find relief from your sensitivity to loud noise. You will also get the added benefit of using a hearing aid to improve your life’s soundscape.
But scheduling an appointment is the first step. This hypersensitivity is a typical part of the hearing loss process, it happens to lots and lots of people.
It doesn’t have to keep making you miserable.