If you have a partner with neglected hearing loss, you know that getting their attention can be… a struggle. First, you try to use their name. You say “Greg”, but you get no response because you used an indoor volume level. You try saying Greg’s name a little louder and still nothing. So you resort to shouting.
And that’s when Greg whirls around with absolutely no awareness of his comedic timing and says grouchily, “why are you shouting?”
This situation isn’t the result of stubbornness or irritability. Hypersensitivity to loud sound is often documented in those who have hearing loss. 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 even worse?
Hearing loss can be a strange thing. Usually, hearing loss will cause your hearing to diminish, especially if it goes untreated. But things can get really loud when you’re out at a busy restaurant or watching a Michael Bay movie. Uncomfortably loud. Maybe it’s somebody shouting to get your attention or one of the explosions in the latest Transformers film, it just gets really loud really fast.
And you’ll wonder why you’re so sensitive to loud noise.
Which can also make you feel a bit cranky, honestly. Many individuals will feel like they’re going crazy when they notice this. They have a difficult time identifying how loud things are. You have a sudden sensitivity to loud sounds even as your family and friends are pointing out your very noticeable hearing loss symptoms. How can that be?
A condition called auditory recruitment can cause these symptoms. this is how it works:
- There are tiny hairs, called stereocilia, covering the inside of your ear. These hairs resonate 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. As a result, your hearing becomes less sensitive. The more damaged hairs you have, the less you’re able to hear.
- But this isn’t an evenly occurring process. There is always some mixture of damaged hairs and healthy hairs.
- So when you hear a loud sound, the impaired hairs “recruit” the healthy hairs (hence the name of the condition) to send an alarmed message to your brain. So, suddenly, everything gets very loud because all of your stereocilia are firing (just as they would with any other loud noise).
Think about it like this: everything is quiet except for the Michael Bay explosion. So it’s going to seem louder, when that Michael Bay explosion occurs, than it normally would.
Sounds like hyperacusis
Those symptoms may sound a little familiar. There is a condition known as hyperacusis that has comparable symptoms and the two are frequently confused. That confusion is, at first, reasonable. Auditory recruitment is a condition where you have a sensitivity to loud noises, and hyperacusis is a condition where sounds very abruptly get loud.
But there are some key differences:
- Hyperacusis is not directly related to hearing loss. Auditory recruitment definitely is.
- Noises that are normal objectively will sound very loud for somebody who has hyperacusis. Think about it like this: When you’re experiencing auditory recruitment, a shout sounds like a shout; but when you have hyperacusis, a whisper could sound like a shout.
- Hyperacusis comes with pain. Literally. Most people who experience hyperacusis report feeling pain. That’s not necessarily the case with auditory recruitment.
It’s true that hyperacusis and auditory recruitment have some similar symptoms. But they are not the same condition.
Can auditory recruitment be treated?
There isn’t any cure for hearing loss and that’s the bad news. Once your hearing is gone, it’s gone. Treatment of hearing loss can largely prevent this.
This also is true for auditory recruitment. But the good news is that auditory recruitment can successfully be treated. Normally, hearing aids are at the center of that treatment. And those hearing aids need to be specially calibrated. That’s why addressing auditory recruitment will almost always require making an appointment with us.
We’ll be able to determine the particular wavelengths of sound that are causing your auditory recruitment symptoms. Then your hearing aids will be dialed in to decrease the volume of those frequencies. It’s sort of like magic, but 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 specific 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 will not be able to deal with your symptoms.
Call us for an appointment
It’s essential that you know that you can get relief from your sensitivity to loud sound. You will also get the additional benefit of using a hearing aid to enhance your life’s soundscape.
But it all begins by scheduling an appointment. Many people who have hearing loss deal with hypersensitivity to loud sound.
It doesn’t need to keep making you miserable.