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 response because you used an inside volume level. You try increasing 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 yelling for.
This situation isn’t due to stubbornness or irritability. People with hearing loss often report hypersensitivity to loud sound. So it makes sense that Greg gets cranky when you shout his name after he continually fails to hear you when you talk to him at a normal volume.
Can loud sounds seem louder with hearing loss?
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 eating in a restaurant, and things will get really loud. So loud that it can become uncomfortable. Maybe the movie suddenly gets really loud or someone is shouting to get your attention.
And you’ll wonder why you’re so sensitive to loud noise.
Which can, truthfully, put you in a cranky mood. Many individuals who notice this will feel like they’re going mad. They have a hard time figuring out how loud things are. You have a sudden sensitivity to loud sounds even as your family and friends are pointing out your very obvious hearing loss symptoms. It feels like a contradiction.
The cause of this sound sensitivity is a condition called auditory recruitment. Here’s how it works:
- There are little hairs, known as stereocilia, that cover the inside of your ear. These hairs vibrate when soundwaves enter your ears and this vibration is then translated to sounds by your brain.
- Damage to these hairs is what brings about age-related sensorineural hearing loss. Over time, these little hairs are permanently damaged by frequent exposure to loud sounds. Consequently, your hearing becomes less sensitive. Your level of hearing loss will be increasingly more severe the more hairs that are compromised.
- But this is not an evenly occurring process. There is always some combination of damaged 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 signal of alarm to your brain. All of a sudden, all of the stereocilia fire, and everything gets very loud.
Think about it like this: That Michael Bay explosion is loud while everything else is quiet. So it’s going to seem louder, when that Michael Bay explosion happens, than it normally would.
Isn’t that the same as hyperacusis?
You may think that these symptoms sound a little familiar. That’s likely because they’re frequently confused with a condition called hyperacusis. When you first compare them, this confusion is understandable. Both conditions can make sounds very loud suddenly.
But here are some substantial differences:
- Hyperacusis isn’t directly caused by hearing loss. Auditory recruitment absolutely is.
- Noises that are normal objectively will sound very loud for someone who has hyperacusis. Think about it like this: When you’re experiencing auditory recruitment, a shout sounds like a shout; but a whisper can sound like a shout with hyperacusis.
- Hyperacusis comes with pain. Literally. Feeling pain is common for individuals who have hyperacusis. That’s not always the case with auditory recruitment.
At the end of the day, auditory recruitment and hyperacusis have some superficially similar symptoms. But they are not the same condition.
Can auditory recruitment be treated?
There’s no cure for hearing loss and that’s the bad news. Your hearing will never return once it goes. Treatment of hearing loss can prevent this, largely.
This also is true for auditory recruitment. Fortunately, there are ways to effectively address auditory recruitment. In most cases, that treatment will include hearing aids. And there’s a particular calibration for those hearing aids. That’s why treating auditory recruitment will nearly always require scheduling an appointment with us.
We’ll be able to identify the specific wavelengths of sound that are causing your auditory recruitment symptoms. Then your hearing aids will be dialed in to decrease the volume of those wavelengths. It’s a really effective treatment.
Only specific types of hearing aid will be successful. 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
If you are noticing sensitivity to loud sounds, it’s important to realize that you can get relief. The bonus is that your new hearing aid will make everything sound better.
But it all starts by making an appointment. Lots of people who have hearing loss cope with hypersensitivity to loud sound.
You can get help so call us.