If you have a partner with untreated 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 regular, indoor volume level, so you get nothing. You try increasing your volume and saying Greg’s name again but he still doesn’t hear you. So you resort to shouting.
Well this time Greg hears you and crossly asks what you’re yelling for.
This situation isn’t due to stubbornness or irritability. Hypersensitivity to loud sound is often reported in those with hearing loss. So it makes sense that Greg gets cranky when you shout his name after he continually fails to hear you when you speak to him at a normal volume.
Can loud sounds seem louder with hearing loss?
So, hearing loss is sort of peculiar. The vast majority of time, you’ll hear less and less, especially if your hearing loss remains untreated. 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 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 an irritable mood. Many people who experience this will feel like they’re going mad. They have a hard time identifying how loud things are. Imagine, all of your friends, family, and acquaintances seem to confirm you’re losing your ability to hear, but you have this sudden sensitivity to loud sound. How is that possible?
The cause of this sound sensitivity is a condition known as auditory recruitment. Here’s how it works:
- There are little hairs, known as stereocilia, that cover the inside of your ear. These hairs resonate when soundwaves enter your ears and this vibration is then converted to sounds by your brain.
- Deterioration of these hairs is what produces age-related sensorineural hearing loss. Over time, these little hairs are permanently damaged by frequent exposure to loud sounds. As a result, your hearing becomes less sensitive. The more damaged hairs you have, the less you can hear.
- But this isn’t an evenly occurring process. There is always some mixture of damaged hairs and healthy hairs.
- So when the impaired hairs are exposed to a loud sound, the healthy hairs are “recruited” (thus 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 quiet except for the Michael Bay explosion. So it’s going to seem louder, when that Michael Bay explosion happens, than it normally would.
Isn’t that the same as hyperacusis?
Those symptoms may 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 where you have a sensitivity to loud sounds, and hyperacusis is a condition where sounds very abruptly get loud.
But here are some significant differences:
- Hyperacusis isn’t directly related to hearing loss. Auditory recruitment absolutely is.
- Noises that are normal objectively will sound really loud for someone who has hyperacusis. Think about it this way: When you’re experiencing auditory recruitment, a shout sounds like a shout; but when you have hyperacusis, a whisper might sound like a shout.
- Hyperacusis is painful. Literally. Feeling pain is common for individuals who have hyperacusis. That’s not always the situation with auditory recruitment.
It’s true that hyperacusis and auditory recruitment have some similar symptoms. But they aren’t the same condition.
Can auditory recruitment be managed?
Here’s the bad news, there’s no cure for hearing loss. Your hearing will never return once it goes. Managing hearing loss early will go a long way to prevent 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 particular 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 specific wavelengths of sound that are causing your auditory recruitment symptoms. Your hearing aids can then be adjusted to diminish that wavelength of sound. It’s a really effective treatment.
Effective treatment will only be accomplished with certain types of hearing aids. The symptoms can’t be addressed with over-the-counter hearing devices because they lack the technological sophistication.
Make an appointment with us
If you are suffering from sensitivity to loud sounds, 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 natural part of the hearing loss process, it happens to lots and lots of people.
You can get help so call us.