If you have a partner with untreated hearing loss, you realize that getting their attention can be… a struggle. 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 increasing your volume and saying Greg’s name again but he still doesn’t hear you. So you resort to shouting.
Well this time Greg hears you and crossly asks what you’re shouting for.
It’s not just stubbornness and impatience that cause this interaction. Hypersensitivity to loud sound is often reported in those who have hearing loss. So it seems logical 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 peculiar thing. Normally, 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 eating in a restaurant, and things will get really noisy. So loud that it can get uncomfortable. Maybe the movie suddenly gets really loud or someone is shouting to get your attention.
And you’ll think: Why am I so sensitive to loud noise?
Which can, truthfully, put you in an irritable mood. Many individuals who experience this will feel like they’re going crazy. That’s because they can’t determine how loud things are. Imagine, all of your family, friends, and acquaintances seem to confirm you’re losing your hearing, but you have this sudden sensitivity to loud sound. It feels like a contradiction.
The cause of this noise sensitivity is a condition known as auditory recruitment. this is how it works:
- There are little hairs, called stereocilia, that cover your inner ear. When soundwaves enter into your ears, these hairs resonate and your brain translates that signal into sounds.
- Age-related “sensorineural” hearing loss happens as these hairs deteriorate. Over time, these little hairs are permanently damaged by repeated exposure to loud sounds. Your hearing becomes more muffled as a result. The more damaged hairs you have, the less you can hear.
- But this process doesn’t occur 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 a warning message to your brain. All of a sudden, all of the stereocilia fire, and everything becomes really loud.
Think about it this way: That Michael Bay explosion is loud but everything else is quiet. So the Michael Bay explosion is going to seem louder (and more obnoxious) than it would otherwise!
Sounds a lot like hyperacusis
Those symptoms may sound a little familiar. There is a condition called hyperacusis that has similar symptoms and the two are frequently confused. At first glance, this confusion is understandable. Both conditions can cause sounds to get really loud suddenly.
But here are some significant differences:
- While hyperacusis has no connection 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 normal volume seem really loud to you. Think about it this way: A shout will still sound like a shout with auditory recruitment; but a whisper can sound like a shout for those who have hyperacusis.
- Hyperacusis is painful. Literally. Most people who experience hyperacusis report feeling pain. With auditory recruitment, that’s typically not the case.
It’s true that hyperacusis and auditory recruitment have a few similar symptoms. But they are not the same condition.
Can auditory recruitment be treated?
There’s no cure for hearing loss and that’s the bad news. Once your hearing is gone, it’s gone. Managing hearing loss early will go a long way to protect against this.
The same is true of auditory recruitment. Fortunately, there are ways to effectively address auditory recruitment. Typically, hearing aids are part of that treatment. And those hearing aids have to be specially calibrated. So it will be necessary to schedule an appointment with us.
The precise frequencies of sound that are triggering your auditory recruitment will be identified. Then your hearing aids will be dialed in to lower the volume of those frequencies. It’s sort of like magic, only 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 certain types of hearing aid will be effective. The symptoms can’t be managed with over-the-counter hearing devices because they lack the technological sophistication.
Call us for an appointment
If you are noticing sensitivity to loud sounds, it’s important to know that you can find relief. The bonus is that your new hearing aid will make everything sound clearer.
But it all starts by making an appointment. This hypersensitivity is a natural part of the hearing loss process, it happens to many, many people.
You can get help so call us.