If you have a partner with untreated hearing loss, you know that getting their attention can be… a challenge. First, you try to say their name. 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 respond. So finally, you shout.
And that’s when Greg whirls around with absolutely no recognition of his comedic timing and says grouchily, “what are you shouting for?”
This situation isn’t due to stubbornness or impatience. Hypersensitivity to loud sound is frequently reported in those with hearing loss. So it seems logical 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 can be kind of peculiar. The majority of time, you’ll hear less and less, particularly if your hearing loss goes untreated. But every once in a while, you’ll watch a Michael Bay movie, or be having a conversation, or be eating in a restaurant, and things will get really loud. Uncomfortably loud. Maybe the movie gets really loud all of a sudden or somebody is shouting to get your attention.
And you’ll think: Why am I so sensitive to loud noise?
Which can also make you feel a little cranky, honestly. Many people will feel like they’re going crazy when they experience this. That’s because they can’t get a handle on how loud things are. You have a sudden sensitivity to loud sounds even as your family and friends are pointing out your very noticeable hearing loss symptoms. How can that be?
The cause of this noise sensitivity is a condition called auditory recruitment. It works like this:
- There are tiny hairs, called stereocilia, that cover your inner ear. When soundwaves enter your ears, these hairs vibrate and your brain converts that signal into sounds.
- Age-related “sensorineural” hearing loss happens as these hairs deteriorate. Over time, these little hairs are permanently damaged by frequent exposure to loud sounds. Your hearing becomes more muffled as a result. Your level of hearing loss will be progressively more severe the more hairs that are damaged.
- But this isn’t an evenly occurring process. There will be a mixture of healthy and damaged hairs.
- So when the impaired hairs are exposed to a loud noise, 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 becomes really loud.
Think about it this way: everything is quiet except for the Michael Bay explosion. So it will seem louder, when that Michael Bay explosion occurs, than it normally would.
Sounds a lot like hyperacusis
You may think that these symptoms sound a little familiar. That’s probably because they’re often confused with a condition called hyperacusis. That conflation is, at first, reasonable. Auditory recruitment is a condition where you have a sensitivity to loud sounds, and hyperacusis is a condition where sounds very suddenly get loud.
But here are a few substantial differences:
- While hyperacusis has no connection to hearing loss, there is a direct link between auditory recruitment and hearing loss.
- Noises that are normal objectively will sound really loud for someone who has hyperacusis. Think about it this way: A shout will still sound like a shout with auditory recruitment; but when you have hyperacusis, a whisper may sound like a shout.
- Hyperacusis is painful. Literally. Feeling pain is common for people who have hyperacusis. That’s not always the situation with auditory recruitment.
It’s true that hyperacusis and auditory recruitment have a few similar symptoms. But they are very different conditions.
Is there any treatment for audio recruitment?
The bad news is that there’s no cure for hearing loss. Once your hearing is gone, it’s gone. Managing hearing loss early will go a long way to protect against this.
The same is true of auditory recruitment. Luckily, there are ways to successfully treat auditory recruitment. In most cases, that treatment will include hearing aids. And there’s a specific calibration for those hearing aids. So it will be necessary to make an appointment with us.
We’ll be able to determine the specific wavelengths of sound that are responsible for your auditory recruitment symptoms. Then your hearing aids will be dialed in to decrease the volume of those wavelengths. It’s kind 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 convey here).
Only specific types of hearing aid will be effective. 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. The bonus is that your new hearing aid will make everything sound better.
But scheduling an appointment is the starting point. Lots of people who have hearing loss deal with hypersensitivity to loud noise.
It doesn’t need to keep making you miserable.