If you have a partner with neglected hearing loss, you appreciate that getting their attention can be… a problem. Their name is the first thing you try saying. You say “Greg”, but you get no response because you used an inside volume level. You try raising your volume and saying Greg’s name again but he still doesn’t hear you. So finally, you shout.
Well this time Greg hears you and crossly asks what you’re shouting for.
This interaction isn’t the result of stubbornness or irritability. Hypersensitivity to loud sound is frequently reported in those with 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 worse?
So, hearing loss is kind of curious. Usually, hearing loss will cause your hearing to decline, especially if it goes untreated. But every now and then, 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 get uncomfortable. Maybe it’s somebody yelling to get your attention or one of the explosions in the newest Transformers movie, it just gets really loud really fast.
And you’ll wonder why you’re so sensitive to loud noise.
Which can, truthfully, put you in a cranky mood. Many people will feel like they’re going mad when they experience this. They have a hard time determining how loud things are. You have a sudden sensitivity to loud sounds even as your friends and family are pointing out your very noticeable hearing loss symptoms. How is that possible?
The cause of this sound sensitivity is a condition called auditory recruitment. It works like this:
- The interior of your ears are covered in tiny hairs called stereocilia. When soundwaves enter into 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 degrade the hairs over time, and once they are damaged, they never heal. As a result, your hearing becomes less sensitive. Your degree of hearing loss will be increasingly more severe the more hairs that are compromised.
- But this isn’t an evenly occurring process. There will be a combination of healthy and damaged 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 signal of alarm to your brain. So, suddenly, everything gets really loud because all of your stereocilia are firing (just as they would with any other loud noise).
Think about it like this: That Michael Bay explosion is loud while everything else is quiet. So it will seem louder, when that Michael Bay explosion happens, than it normally would.
Sounds like hyperacusis
Those symptoms may sound a little familiar. There is a condition called hyperacusis that has comparable symptoms and the two are frequently confused. When you first compare them, this confusion is understandable. Auditory recruitment is a condition in which you have a sensitivity to loud noises, and hyperacusis is a condition where sounds very abruptly get loud.
But here are some substantial differences:
- Hyperacusis is not directly caused by hearing loss. Auditory recruitment definitely is.
- When you have hyperacusis, noises that are at an objectively ordinary volume seem very loud to you. Think about it like this: When you’re experiencing auditory recruitment, a shout sounds like a shout; but a whisper could sound like a shout with hyperacusis.
- Hyperacusis causes pain. Literally. Feeling pain is common for people with hyperacusis. With auditory recruitment, that’s typically not the case.
It’s true that hyperacusis and auditory recruitment have a few similar symptoms. But they aren’t the same condition.
Is there any treatment for audio recruitment?
The bad news is that there’s no cure for hearing loss. Your hearing will never return once it’s gone. Treatment of hearing loss can prevent this, largely.
This also applies to auditory recruitment. Luckily, there are ways to successfully address auditory recruitment. In most situations, that treatment will include hearing aids. And those hearing aids have to be specially calibrated. That’s why treating auditory recruitment will almost always require scheduling an appointment with us.
We’ll be able to identify the specific wavelengths of sound that are responsible for your auditory recruitment symptoms. Your hearing aids can then be adjusted to reduce that wavelength of sound. It’s kind of like magic, only it’s using science and technology (so, not really like magic at all, but it works really effectively is what we’re trying to communicate here).
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 deal with your symptoms.
Schedule an appointment with us
It’s essential that you know that you can get relief from your sensitivity to loud noise. You will also get the extra benefit of using a hearing aid to enhance your life’s soundscape.
But scheduling an appointment is the first step. This hypersensitivity is a typical part of the hearing loss process, it happens to lots and lots of people.
You can get help so call us.