If you have a partner with neglected hearing loss, you appreciate that getting their attention can be… a problem. First, you try to say their name. “Greg”, you say, but you used a standard, indoor volume level, so you get nothing. You try saying Greg’s name a bit louder and still nothing. So you resort to shouting.
And that’s when Greg whirls around with absolutely no awareness of his comedic timing and says grouchily, “why are you shouting?”
It’s not just stubbornness and irritability that create this interaction. People with hearing loss frequently report hypersensitivity to loud sound. So it makes sense that Greg gets aggravated when you shout his name after he repeatedly fails to hear you when you talk to him at a normal volume.
Can loud sounds seem louder with hearing loss?
Hearing loss can be a strange thing. Typical, 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 talking with someone, or be eating in a restaurant, and things will get really loud. 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 movie, it just gets really loud really fast.
And you’ll wonder why you have this sensitivity to loud noise.
Which can, honestly, put you in a cranky mood. Many people who experience this will feel like they’re going mad. They have a hard time determining how loud things are. You have a sudden sensitivity to loud sounds even as your friends and family are pointing out your very noticeable hearing loss symptoms. It feels like a contradiction.
A condition known as auditory recruitment can cause these symptoms. Here’s how it works:
- The interior of your ears are covered in tiny hairs known as stereocilia. When soundwaves enter into your ears, these hairs vibrate and your brain translates that signal into sounds.
- Damage to these hairs is what brings about age-related sensorineural hearing loss. Over time, these little hairs are permanently damaged by repeated exposure to loud sounds. Your hearing becomes more muffled as a result. Your level of hearing loss will be increasingly worse the more hairs that are damaged.
- But this isn’t an evenly occurring process. There is always some combination of damaged and healthy hairs.
- So when the damaged hairs are exposed to a loud noise, 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 like this: That Michael Bay explosion is loud but everything else is quiet. So it’s going to seem louder, when that Michael Bay explosion happens, than it normally would.
Isn’t that exactly like hyperacusis?
You might think that these symptoms sound a little familiar. That’s probably because they’re typically confused with a condition known as hyperacusis. At first glance, this confusion is easy to understand. Both conditions can make sounds very loud suddenly.
But there are some key differences:
- While hyperacusis has no connection to hearing loss, there is a direct connection between auditory recruitment and hearing loss.
- Noises that are normal objectively will seem really loud for somebody who has hyperacusis. Think about it like this: A shout will still sound like a shout when you have auditory recruitment; but with hyperacusis, a whisper could sound like a shout.
- Hyperacusis comes with pain. Literally. Most people who experience hyperacusis report feelings of pain. With auditory recruitment, that’s normally not the situation.
It’s true that hyperacusis and auditory recruitment have a few similar symptoms. But they are quite different conditions.
Is there any way to treat audio recruitment?
The bad news is that there’s no cure for hearing loss. Your hearing will never return once it goes. Treating hearing loss early will go a long way to protect against this.
The same is true of auditory recruitment. But the good news is that auditory recruitment can be treated successfully. In most situations, that treatment will involve 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 determine the particular wavelengths of sound that are responsible for your auditory recruitment symptoms. Then your hearing aids will be dialed in to lower the volume of those wavelengths. It’s sort of like magic, but it’s using science and technology (so, not really like magic at all, but it works really well is what we’re trying to communicate here).
Only specific types of hearing aid will be successful. Over-the-counter hearing aids or sound amplifiers, for instance, don’t have the necessary technological sophistication and built-in sensitivity, so they won’t be able to deal with your symptoms.
Schedule an appointment with us
It’s essential that you know that you can get relief from your sensitivity to loud noise. You will also get the extra 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 lots and lots of people.
It doesn’t have to keep making you miserable.