If you have a partner with untreated hearing loss, you appreciate that getting their attention can be… a challenge. Their name is the first thing you try saying. You say “Greg”, but you get no response because you used an inside volume level. You try saying Greg’s name a bit louder and still nothing. So finally, you shout.
And that’s when Greg whirls around with absolutely no appreciation of his comedic timing and says grouchily, “why are you shouting?”
It’s not just stubbornness and impatience that create this situation. Hypersensitivity to loud sound is often documented in those who have hearing loss. And this sensitivity to loud noises can help illustrate why Greg can’t hear his name at a normal volume but gets cranky when you shout at him.
Can hearing loss make loud sounds even worse?
So, hearing loss can be sort of peculiar. The vast majority of time, you’ll hear less and less, particularly if your hearing loss remains unaddressed. But things can get really loud when you’re out at a busy restaurant or watching a Michael Bay movie. Uncomfortably loud. Maybe the movie gets really loud all of a sudden or someone is shouting to get your attention.
And you’ll think: Why am I so sensitive to loud noise?
Which can, honestly, put you in an irritable mood. Many people will feel like they’re going mad when they notice 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 friends and family are pointing out your very obvious hearing loss symptoms. It feels like a contradiction.
A condition known as auditory recruitment can trigger these symptoms. It works like this:
- The inside of your ears are covered in tiny hairs called stereocilia. These hairs vibrate when soundwaves enter your ears and this vibration is then translated to sounds by your brain.
- Age-related “sensorineural” hearing loss takes place as these hairs deteriorate. Loud sounds can damage the hairs over time, and once they are injured, they are unable to heal. As a result, your hearing becomes less sensitive. Your degree of hearing loss will be increasingly more severe the more hairs that are compromised.
- But this is not an evenly occurring process. There will be a combination of healthy and damaged hairs.
- So when you hear a loud noise, the impaired hairs “recruit” the healthy hairs (hence the name of the condition) to send an alarmed message to your brain. So, suddenly, everything gets really loud because all of your stereocilia are firing (just as they would with any other loud sound).
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.
Isn’t that exactly like hyperacusis?
You might think that these symptoms 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 easy to understand. Both conditions can make sounds very loud suddenly.
But here are some significant differences:
- While hyperacusis has no link to hearing loss, there is a direct link between auditory recruitment and hearing loss.
- When you’re dealing with hyperacusis, noises that are at an objectively ordinary volume seem really loud to you. Think about it this way: A shout will still sound like a shout when you have auditory recruitment; but with hyperacusis, a whisper may sound like a shout.
- Hyperacusis causes pain. Literally. Most people who experience hyperacusis report feelings of pain. That’s not always the situation with auditory recruitment.
At the end of the day, auditory recruitment and hyperacusis have a few superficially similar symptoms. But they are entirely different conditions.
Can auditory recruitment be treated?
There isn’t any cure for hearing loss and that’s the bad news. Your hearing will never return once it’s gone. Treating hearing loss early will go a long way to prevent this.
The same goes for auditory recruitment. Luckily, there are ways to effectively address auditory recruitment. In most situations, that treatment will involve hearing aids. And those hearing aids have 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 particular wavelengths of sound that are causing your auditory recruitment symptoms. Your hearing aids can then be adjusted to reduce that wavelength of sound. It’s sort 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 communicate here).
Only specific types of hearing aid will be successful. The symptoms can’t be addressed with over-the-counter hearing devices because they lack the technological sophistication.
Schedule an appointment with us
If you are suffering from sensitivity to loud noises, it’s important to realize that you can get relief. The bonus is that your new hearing aid will make everything sound clearer.
But scheduling an appointment is the starting point. Lots of people who have hearing loss cope with hypersensitivity to loud sound.
It doesn’t need to keep making you miserable.