You know that it can be challenging to get your partner’s attention if they have neglected hearing loss. First, you try to say their name. “Greg”, you say, but you used a standard, inside volume level, so you get no reply. You try raising your volume and saying Greg’s name again but he still doesn’t respond. 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 interaction. Hypersensitivity to loud sound is often documented in those with hearing loss. And this sensitivity to loud noises can help illustrate 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?
So, hearing loss can be sort of peculiar. The majority of time, you’ll hear less and less, especially if your hearing loss 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 noisy. So loud that it can become uncomfortable. Maybe it’s somebody shouting to get your attention or one of the explosions in the latest Transformers movie, it just becomes really loud really fast.
And you’ll wonder why you have this sensitivity to loud noise.
Which can, truthfully, put you in an irritable mood. Many people who experience this will feel like they’re going crazy. They have a hard time determining 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. It feels like a contradiction.
The cause of this noise sensitivity is a condition called auditory recruitment. It works like this:
- There are tiny hairs, called stereocilia, covering your inner ear. When soundwaves enter your ears, these hairs vibrate and your brain translates that signal into sounds.
- Damage to these hairs is what brings about age-related sensorineural hearing loss. Loud sounds can damage the hairs over time, and once they are injured, they are unable to heal. 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 you hear a loud noise, the damaged hairs “recruit” the healthy hairs (thus the name of the condition) to send a warning message to your brain. All of a sudden, all of the stereocilia fire, and everything gets very loud.
Think about it like this: That Michael Bay explosion is loud while everything else is quiet. So the Michael Bay explosion will seem louder (and more obnoxious) than it would otherwise!
Sounds a lot like hyperacusis
Those symptoms might sound a little familiar. There is a condition called hyperacusis that has similar symptoms and the two are frequently confused. At first glance, this confusion is easy to understand. Auditory recruitment is a condition in which you have a sensitivity to loud noises, and hyperacusis is a condition in which sounds very suddenly get loud.
But here are a few substantial differences:
- While hyperacusis has no link to hearing loss, there is a direct link between auditory recruitment and hearing loss.
- Noises that are normal objectively will sound really loud for somebody who has hyperacusis. Think about it this way: A shout will still sound like a shout when you have auditory recruitment; but a whisper could sound like a shout with hyperacusis.
- Hyperacusis causes pain. Literally. Most individuals who cope with hyperacusis report feelings of pain. That’s not necessarily the case 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.
Can auditory recruitment be managed?
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.
The same is true of auditory recruitment. Luckily, there are ways to successfully manage auditory recruitment. In most cases, that treatment will involve hearing aids. And there’s a particular calibration for those hearing aids. That’s why treating auditory recruitment will nearly always require scheduling an appointment with us.
We’ll be able to identify the specific wavelengths of sound that are causing your auditory recruitment symptoms. Then your hearing aids will be dialed in to decrease the volume of those wavelengths. It’s a very effective treatment.
Effective treatment will only be accomplished with specific types of hearing aids. 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 sounds, it’s important to know that you can get relief. 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 lots and lots of people.
You can get help so call us.