You know that it can be difficult to get your partner’s attention if they have untreated hearing loss. First, you try to say their name. You say “Greg”, but you get no answer because you used an inside volume level. You try raising your volume and saying Greg’s name again but he still doesn’t respond. So you resort to shouting.
Well this time Greg hears you and grouchily asks what you’re yelling for.
It’s not just stubbornness and impatience that create this situation. Hypersensitivity to loud sound is frequently reported in those who have hearing loss. And this sensitivity to loud noises can help illustrate 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 even worse?
Hearing loss can be a strange thing. Normally, hearing loss will cause your hearing to decline, particularly if it goes 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 the movie gets really loud all of a sudden or someone is shouting to get your attention.
And you’ll wonder why you have this sensitivity to loud noise.
Which can also make you feel a little aggravated, honestly. Many individuals who notice this will feel like they’re going mad. That’s because they can’t determine how loud anything is. Imagine, all of your family, friends, and acquaintances seem to confirm you’re losing your hearing, but you have this sudden sensitivity to loud sound. It feels like a contradiction.
A condition known as auditory recruitment can cause these symptoms. It works like this:
- The inside of your ears are covered with tiny hairs called stereocilia. When soundwaves enter your ears, these hairs resonate and your brain translates that signal into sounds.
- Deterioration of these hairs is what causes age-related sensorineural hearing loss. 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 is not an evenly occurring process. There is always some combination of damaged hairs and healthy hairs.
- So when you hear a loud noise, the damaged hairs “recruit” the healthy hairs (thus the name of the condition) to send a warning message to your brain. So, suddenly, everything gets really loud because all of your stereocilia are firing (just like they would with any other loud noise).
Think about it like this: everything is silent except for the Michael Bay explosion. So it’s going to seem louder, when that Michael Bay explosion happens, than it normally would.
Sounds like hyperacusis
You may think that these symptoms sound a bit familiar. There is a condition called hyperacusis that has comparable symptoms and the two are frequently confused. That confusion is, initially, understandable. Auditory recruitment is a condition in which you have a sensitivity to loud sounds, and hyperacusis is a condition in which sounds very abruptly get loud.
But here are some considerable differences:
- Hyperacusis is not directly caused by hearing loss. Auditory recruitment definitely is.
- Noises that are normal objectively will seem very loud for somebody who has hyperacusis. Think about it this way: 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. Most people who experience hyperacusis report feeling pain. That’s not always the case with auditory recruitment.
Overall, auditory recruitment and hyperacusis have a few superficially similar symptoms. But they aren’t the same condition.
Is there any way to treat audio recruitment?
There isn’t any cure for hearing loss and that’s the bad news. Your hearing will never come back once it’s gone. Treatment of hearing loss can prevent this, largely.
This also applies to auditory recruitment. Fortunately, there are ways to successfully address auditory recruitment. Typically, hearing aids are part of that treatment. And those hearing aids have to be specifically calibrated. That’s why treating auditory recruitment will nearly always require making an appointment with us.
The precise frequencies of sound that are causing your auditory recruitment will be identified. Your hearing aids can then be calibrated 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 effectively is what we’re trying to communicate here).
Successful treatment will only work with specific types of hearing aids. The symptoms can’t be managed with over-the-counter hearing devices because they lack the technological sophistication.
Reach out to us for an appointment
It’s essential that you recognize that you can get relief from your sensitivity to loud noise. You will also get the added benefit of using a hearing aid to enhance your life’s soundscape.
But it all begins by making an appointment. This hypersensitivity is a typical part of the hearing loss process, it happens to many, many people.
It doesn’t need to keep making you miserable.