You know that it can be difficult to get your partner’s attention if they have untreated hearing loss. Their name is the first thing you try saying. “Greg”, you say, but you used a regular, indoor volume level, so you get nothing. You try increasing 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 grouchily, “why are you shouting?”
It’s not just stubbornness and irritability that create this interaction. Hypersensitivity to loud sound is frequently 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 aggravated when you shout at him.
Can hearing loss make loud sounds even worse?
So, hearing loss is kind of peculiar. Normally, hearing loss will cause your hearing to decline, especially if it goes untreated. But things can get very loud when you’re out at a busy restaurant or watching a Michael Bay movie. So loud that it can become uncomfortable. Maybe the movie suddenly gets really loud or somebody is shouting to get your attention.
And you’ll wonder why you’re so sensitive to loud noise.
Which can also make you feel a bit aggravated, honestly. Many individuals 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.
A condition known as auditory recruitment can cause these symptoms. It works like this:
- There are tiny hairs, called stereocilia, that cover the inside of your ear. These hairs vibrate when soundwaves enter your ears and this vibration is then translated to sounds by your brain.
- Age-related “sensorineural” hearing loss takes place as these hairs are damaged. Over time, these fragile hairs are permanently damaged by repeated exposure to loud sounds. Your hearing becomes more muffled as a result. Your level of hearing loss will be progressively more severe the more hairs that are damaged.
- But this is not an evenly occurring process. There is always some combination of damaged and healthy 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 gets very loud.
Think about it this way: everything is silent except for the Michael Bay explosion. 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 comparable symptoms and the two are often confused. At first glance, this confusion is understandable. Both conditions can cause sounds to get very 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.
- When you have hyperacusis, noises that are at an objectively ordinary volume seem extremely loud to you. Think about it this way: A shout will still sound like a shout with auditory recruitment; but a whisper can sound like a shout for those who have hyperacusis.
- Hyperacusis is painful. Literally. Feeling pain is common for people who have hyperacusis. That’s not necessarily the situation 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 managed?
The bad news is that there’s no cure for hearing loss. Your hearing will never return once it goes. Treating hearing loss early will go a long way to prevent this.
This also applies to auditory recruitment. But the good news is that auditory recruitment can be treated successfully. Normally, 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.
We’ll be able to determine the particular 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 sort of like magic, but it’s using science and technology (so, not really like magic at all, but it works really well is what we’re trying to convey here).
Successful treatment will only be accomplished with certain types of hearing aids. Over-the-counter hearing aids or sound amplifiers, for instance, do not have the necessary technological sophistication and built-in sensitivity, so they will not be able to address your symptoms.
Schedule an appointment with us
If you are experiencing sensitivity to loud noises, it’s important to know that you can get relief. You will also get the added benefit of using a hearing aid to improve your life’s soundscape.
But it all begins by scheduling an appointment. This hypersensitivity is a normal part of the hearing loss process, it happens to lots and lots of people.
It doesn’t have to keep making you miserable.