If you have a partner with neglected hearing loss, you appreciate that getting their attention can be… a struggle. Their name is the first thing you try saying. “Greg”, you say, but you used a normal, indoor volume level, so you get nothing. You try raising your volume and saying Greg’s name again but he still doesn’t hear you. So you resort to shouting.
And that’s when Greg spins around with absolutely no appreciation of his comedic timing and says crossly, “why are you shouting?”
This situation isn’t due to stubbornness or irritability. Individuals with hearing loss frequently report hypersensitivity to loud sound. And this sensitivity to loud noises can help illustrate why Greg can’t hear his name at a normal volume but gets aggravated when you shout at him.
Can loud sounds seem louder with hearing loss?
So, hearing loss can be kind of peculiar. The majority of time, you’ll hear less and less, especially if your hearing loss goes unaddressed. But every once in a while, you’ll watch a Michael Bay movie, or be having a conversation, or be having dinner in a restaurant, and things will get really loud. So loud that it can become uncomfortable. Maybe it’s someone 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 think: What’s causing this sensitivity to loud noise?
Which can also make you feel a little cranky, honestly. Many individuals will feel like they’re going mad when they notice this. They have a difficult time determining how loud things are. Imagine, all of your family, friends, and acquaintances seem to confirm you’re losing your ability to hear, but you have this sudden sensitivity to loud sound. How can that be?
The cause of this noise sensitivity is a condition known as auditory recruitment. this is how it works:
- The inside of your ears are covered with tiny hairs known as stereocilia. These hairs vibrate when soundwaves enter your ears and this vibration is then translated to sounds by your brain.
- Age-related “sensorineural” hearing loss happens as these hairs are damaged. Over time, these fragile hairs are permanently damaged by repeated exposure to loud sounds. Consequently, your hearing becomes less sensitive. The more compromised hairs you have, the less you’re able to hear.
- But this is not an evenly occurring process. There will be a mixture of healthy and damaged hairs.
- So when you hear a loud noise, the impaired hairs “recruit” the healthy hairs (hence the name of the condition) to send a warning message to your brain. Suddenly, all of the stereocilia fire, and everything becomes really loud.
Think about it like this: That Michael Bay explosion is loud but everything else is quiet. So the Michael Bay explosion will seem louder (and more obnoxious) than it otherwise would!
Sounds a lot like 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, initially, understandable. Auditory recruitment is a condition where you have a sensitivity to loud noises, and hyperacusis is a condition where sounds very suddenly get loud.
But here are some considerable differences:
- Hyperacusis is not directly caused by hearing loss. Auditory recruitment absolutely is.
- 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 when you have auditory recruitment; but when you have hyperacusis, a whisper could sound like a shout.
- Hyperacusis is painful. Literally. Feeling pain is common for individuals with hyperacusis. With auditory recruitment, that’s normally not the situation.
It’s true that hyperacusis and auditory recruitment have a few similar symptoms. But they are quite different conditions.
Is there any treatment for audio recruitment?
Here’s the bad news, there’s no cure for hearing loss. Once your hearing is gone, it’s gone. Addressing hearing loss early will go a long way to protect against this.
This also applies to auditory recruitment. But here’s the good news, auditory recruitment can be treated successfully. Normally, hearing aids are at the center of that treatment. And there’s a specific calibration for those hearing aids. That’s why treating auditory recruitment will almost always require making an appointment with us.
We’ll be able to identify the particular wavelengths of sound that are responsible for your auditory recruitment symptoms. Your hearing aids can then be calibrated to reduce that wavelength of sound. It’s a very effective treatment.
Only specific types of hearing aid will be successful. Over-the-counter hearing aids or sound amplifiers, for instance, don’t have the necessary technological sophistication and built-in sensitivity, so they will not be able to address your symptoms.
Make an appointment with us
If you are experiencing sensitivity to loud noises, it’s important to realize that you can find relief. You will also get the additional benefit of using a hearing aid to enhance your life’s soundscape.
But it all begins by making an appointment. Lots of people who have hearing loss cope with hypersensitivity to loud noise.
It doesn’t need to keep making you miserable.