You know that it can be a challenge 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 normal, inside volume level, so you get no reply. You try raising your volume and saying Greg’s name again but he still doesn’t hear you. So finally, you shout.
And that’s when Greg spins around with absolutely no recognition of his comedic timing and says crossly, “what are you shouting for?”
This situation isn’t the result of stubbornness or irritability. Individuals with hearing loss often report hypersensitivity to loud sound. So it makes sense 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?
So, hearing loss can be sort of curious. Usually, hearing loss will cause your hearing to diminish, particularly if it goes untreated. But every once in a while, you’ll watch a Michael Bay movie, or be having a conversation, or be having dinner in a restaurant, and things will get really noisy. 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, honestly, put you in an irritable mood. Many individuals will feel like they’re going mad when they experience this. They have a hard time identifying how loud things are. Imagine, all of your friends, family, and acquaintances seem to validate you’re losing your ability to hear, but you have this sudden sensitivity to loud sound. It feels like a contradiction.
A condition known as auditory recruitment can cause these symptoms. It works like this:
- There are little hairs, called stereocilia, that cover your inner ear. These hairs resonate when soundwaves enter your ears and this vibration is then converted to sounds by your brain.
- Deterioration of these hairs is what produces age-related sensorineural hearing loss. Over time, these delicate hairs are permanently damaged by frequent exposure to loud sounds. Your hearing becomes more muffled 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 mixture of healthy and damaged hairs.
- So when you hear a loud noise, the damaged hairs “recruit” the healthy hairs (thus the name of the condition) to send an alarmed message to your brain. All of a sudden, all of the stereocilia fire, and everything becomes very loud.
Think about it this way: everything is quiet except for the Michael Bay explosion. So the Michael Bay explosion will seem louder (and more obnoxious) than it otherwise would!
Isn’t that exactly like hyperacusis?
Those symptoms might sound a little familiar. That’s probably because they’re typically confused with a condition called hyperacusis. That confusion is, initially, understandable. Auditory recruitment is a condition in which you have a sensitivity to loud noises, and hyperacusis is a condition where sounds very suddenly get loud.
But there are a few key differences:
- Hyperacusis is not directly related to hearing loss. Auditory recruitment absolutely is.
- When you’re dealing with hyperacusis, noises that are at an objectively normal volume seem really loud to you. Think about it like this: When you have auditory recruitment, a shout sounds like a shout; but with hyperacusis, a whisper may sound like a shout.
- Hyperacusis is painful. Literally. Most people who cope with hyperacusis report feeling pain. That’s not necessarily the case with auditory recruitment.
It’s true that hyperacusis and auditory recruitment have a few similar symptoms. But they aren’t the same condition.
Can auditory recruitment be treated?
Here’s the bad news, there’s no cure for hearing loss. Once your hearing is gone, it’s gone. Treatment of hearing loss can largely prevent this.
This also applies to auditory recruitment. But here’s the good news, auditory recruitment can successfully be treated. Typically, hearing aids are at the center of that treatment. And there’s a particular calibration for those hearing aids. That’s why treating auditory recruitment will almost always require making an appointment with us.
The precise frequencies of sound that are causing your auditory recruitment will be identified. Then your hearing aids will be dialed in to reduce the volume of those frequencies. It’s a really effective treatment.
Only specific types of hearing aid will be successful. Over-the-counter hearing aids or sound amplifiers, for example, do not have the necessary technological sophistication and built-in sensitivity, so they will not be able to address your symptoms.
Make an appointment with us
If you are noticing sensitivity to loud noises, 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 first step. This hypersensitivity is a natural part of the hearing loss process, it happens to lots and lots of people.
You can get help so call us.