If you have a partner with neglected hearing loss, you know that getting their attention can be… a challenge. First, you try to say their name. “Greg”, you say, but you used a normal, indoor volume level, so you get nothing. 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 shouting for.
It’s not just stubbornness and irritability that cause this interaction. Individuals with hearing loss frequently report hypersensitivity to loud sound. So it seems logical that Greg gets cranky when you shout his name after he repeatedly fails to hear you when you speak to him at a normal volume.
Can hearing loss make loud sounds worse?
Hearing loss can be a strange thing. The majority of time, you’ll hear less and less, particularly if your hearing loss remains untreated. But things can get really loud when you’re out at a crowded restaurant or watching a Michael Bay movie. So loud that it can become uncomfortable. Maybe it’s somebody yelling to get your attention or one of the explosions in the newest Transformers film, it just becomes really loud really fast.
And you’ll think: What’s causing this sensitivity to loud noise?
Which can also make you feel a little aggravated, honestly. Many people will feel like they’re going mad when they notice this. They have a difficult time determining 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. It feels like a contradiction.
The cause of this noise sensitivity is a condition called auditory recruitment. It works like this:
- The inside of your ears are covered in tiny hairs known as stereocilia. When soundwaves enter into your ears, these hairs resonate and your brain translates that signal into sounds.
- Damage to these hairs is what causes age-related sensorineural hearing loss. Over time, these delicate hairs are permanently damaged by frequent exposure to loud sounds. Your hearing becomes duller as a result. The more compromised hairs you have, the less you’re able to hear.
- But this process doesn’t happen evenly. There will be a combination of healthy and damaged hairs.
- So when you hear a loud sound, the damaged hairs “recruit” the healthy hairs (hence the name of the condition) to send a warning message to your brain. So, all of a sudden, everything gets really loud because all of your stereocilia are firing (just as they would with any other loud sound).
Think about it like this: everything is quiet except for the Michael Bay explosion. So the Michael Bay explosion is going to seem louder (and more obnoxious) than it would otherwise!
Isn’t that the same as hyperacusis?
You may think that these symptoms sound a bit familiar. That’s most likely because they’re frequently confused with a condition known as hyperacusis. That conflation is, at first, reasonable. 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 substantial differences:
- Hyperacusis is not directly related to hearing loss. Auditory recruitment definitely is.
- When you have hyperacusis, noises that are at an objectively normal volume seem really loud to you. Think about it this way: When you have auditory recruitment, a shout sounds like a shout; but a whisper can sound like a shout with hyperacusis.
- Hyperacusis is painful. Literally. Most people who cope with hyperacusis report feeling pain. That’s not necessarily the case with auditory recruitment.
Overall, auditory recruitment and hyperacusis have some superficially similar symptoms. But they are entirely different conditions.
Can auditory recruitment be managed?
There’s no cure for hearing loss and that’s the bad news. Your hearing will never come back once it’s gone. Managing hearing loss early will go a long way to prevent this.
This also applies to auditory recruitment. Fortunately, there are ways to effectively treat auditory recruitment. In most cases, that treatment will involve hearing aids. And there’s a particular calibration for those hearing aids. So it will be necessary to make 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 a very effective treatment.
Effective treatment will only be accomplished with specific types of hearing aids. The symptoms can’t be addressed with over-the-counter hearing devices because they lack the technological sophistication.
Call us for an appointment
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 making an appointment is the first step. Lots of people who have hearing loss deal with hypersensitivity to loud sound.
It doesn’t need to keep making you miserable.