You know that it can be challenging to get your partner’s attention if they have untreated hearing loss. First, you try to say their name. “Greg”, you say, but you used a standard, inside volume level, so you get no reply. You try increasing your volume and saying Greg’s name again but he still doesn’t respond. So finally, you shout.
Well this time Greg hears you and crossly asks what you’re yelling for.
It’s not just stubbornness and impatience that cause this situation. Hypersensitivity to loud sound is often documented in those who have hearing loss. 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 hearing loss make loud sounds even worse?
So, hearing loss can be sort of curious. The majority of time, you’ll hear less and less, especially if your hearing loss goes untreated. But things can get very loud when you’re out at a packed restaurant or watching a Michael Bay movie. So loud that it can become uncomfortable. Maybe the movie gets really loud all of a sudden or somebody is shouting to get your attention.
And you’ll think: What’s causing this sensitivity to loud noise?
Which can, truthfully, put you in a cranky mood. Many people will feel like they’re going crazy when they experience 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 obvious hearing loss symptoms. It feels like a contradiction.
The cause of this noise sensitivity is a condition known as auditory recruitment. It works like this:
- 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 converts that signal into sounds.
- Age-related “sensorineural” hearing loss takes place as these hairs are damaged. Over time, these delicate hairs are permanently damaged by repeated exposure to loud sounds. Your hearing becomes duller as a result. The more compromised hairs you have, the less you can hear.
- But this process doesn’t happen evenly. There will be a mixture 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 an alarmed message to your brain. Suddenly, all of the stereocilia fire, and everything becomes very loud.
Think about it like this: everything is quiet except for the Michael Bay explosion. So it’s going to seem louder, when that Michael Bay explosion occurs, than it normally would.
Sounds a lot like hyperacusis
Those symptoms might sound a little familiar. There is a condition known as hyperacusis that has comparable symptoms and the two are frequently confused. When you first compare them, this confusion is understandable. Both conditions can cause sounds to get very loud suddenly.
But here are some substantial differences:
- Hyperacusis is not directly caused by hearing loss. Auditory recruitment absolutely is.
- When you’re dealing with hyperacusis, noises that are at an objectively ordinary volume seem really loud to you. Think about it like this: When you’re experiencing auditory recruitment, a shout sounds like a shout; but with hyperacusis, a whisper may sound like a shout.
- Hyperacusis comes with pain. Literally. Feeling pain is common for people with hyperacusis. That’s not always the situation with auditory recruitment.
Overall, auditory recruitment and hyperacusis have a few superficially similar symptoms. But they are not the same condition.
Can auditory recruitment be treated?
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 is true for auditory recruitment. But here’s the good news, auditory recruitment can be treated successfully. Typically, hearing aids are at the center of that treatment. And those hearing aids need to be specifically calibrated. That’s why addressing 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 lower the volume of those frequencies. It’s a really effective treatment.
Only certain 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 noticing sensitivity to loud noises, it’s important to recognize that you can get relief. You will also get the additional benefit of using a hearing aid to improve your life’s soundscape.
But making an appointment is the first step. This hypersensitivity is a normal part of the hearing loss process, it happens to lots and lots of people.
You can get help so call us.