If you have a partner with untreated hearing loss, you appreciate that getting their attention can be… a challenge. Their name is the first thing you try saying. “Greg”, you say, but you used a standard, inside 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 whirls around with absolutely no awareness of his comedic timing and says grouchily, “why are you shouting?”
This interaction isn’t due to stubbornness or impatience. Individuals with hearing loss frequently report hypersensitivity to loud sound. So it seems logical that Greg gets aggravated when you shout his name after he repeatedly fails to hear you when you talk to him at a normal volume.
Can hearing loss make loud sounds worse?
So, hearing loss is sort of peculiar. The vast majority of time, you’ll hear less and less, especially if your hearing loss remains unaddressed. But things can get really loud when you’re out at a crowded restaurant or watching a Michael Bay movie. So loud that it can get uncomfortable. Maybe the movie gets really loud all of a sudden or someone is shouting to get your attention.
And you’ll think: What’s causing this sensitivity to loud noise?
Which can, truthfully, put you in an irritable mood. Many individuals will feel like they’re going mad when they experience this. They have a hard time figuring out how loud things are. Imagine, all of your family, friends, and acquaintances seem to validate you’re losing your ability to hear, but you have this sudden sensitivity to loud sound. It feels like a contradiction.
The cause of this sound sensitivity is a condition called auditory recruitment. Here’s how it works:
- The inside of your ears are covered with tiny hairs known as stereocilia. When soundwaves enter your ears, these hairs vibrate and your brain converts that signal into sounds.
- Age-related “sensorineural” hearing loss occurs as these hairs are damaged. Loud sounds can damage the hairs over time, and once they are injured, they are unable to heal. Your hearing becomes duller as a result. The more compromised hairs you have, the less you can hear.
- But this process doesn’t happen evenly. There is always some combination of damaged hairs and healthy hairs.
- So when you hear a loud sound, 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 this way: That Michael Bay explosion is loud but everything else is quiet. So it will seem louder, when that Michael Bay explosion occurs, than it normally would.
Isn’t that the same as hyperacusis?
You may think that these symptoms sound a bit familiar. There is a condition known as hyperacusis that has comparable symptoms and the two are often confused. That confusion is, at first, understandable. Auditory recruitment is a condition in which you have a sensitivity to loud noises, and hyperacusis is a condition in which sounds very abruptly get loud.
But here are some 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 seem really loud for somebody who has hyperacusis. Think about it like this: When you have auditory recruitment, a shout sounds like a shout; but with hyperacusis, a whisper may sound like a shout.
- Hyperacusis causes pain. Literally. Most individuals who cope with hyperacusis report feeling pain. With auditory recruitment, that’s typically not the case.
It’s true that hyperacusis and auditory recruitment have some similar symptoms. But they aren’t 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’s gone. Treatment of hearing loss can largely prevent this.
This also is true for auditory recruitment. Luckily, there are ways to effectively treat auditory recruitment. In most situations, that treatment will include hearing aids. And there’s a specific calibration for those hearing aids. So it will be necessary to make an appointment with us.
We’ll be able to identify the specific wavelengths of sound that are responsible for your auditory recruitment symptoms. Then your hearing aids will be dialed in to decrease the volume of those frequencies. It’s a very effective treatment.
Only specific types of hearing aid will be effective. The symptoms can’t be managed with over-the-counter hearing devices because they lack the technological sophistication.
Contact us for an appointment
It’s essential that you know that you can get relief from your sensitivity to loud sound. The bonus is that your new hearing aid will make everything sound clearer.
But scheduling 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.
It doesn’t have to keep making you miserable.