If you have a partner with neglected hearing loss, you realize that getting their attention can be… a struggle. First, you try to say their name. You say “Greg”, but you get no answer because you used an indoor volume level. You try saying Greg’s name a little louder and still no reply. So you resort to shouting.
And that’s when Greg spins around with absolutely no appreciation of his comedic timing and says grouchily, “why are you shouting?”
This interaction isn’t due to stubbornness or impatience. Individuals with hearing loss often report hypersensitivity to loud sound. So it seems logical that Greg gets cranky when you shout his name after he continually fails to hear you when you speak to him at a normal volume.
Can loud sounds seem louder with hearing loss?
Hearing loss can be a strange thing. The vast majority of time, you’ll hear less and less, particularly if your hearing loss goes unaddressed. 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 suddenly gets really loud or somebody is yelling to get your attention.
And you’ll think: What’s causing this sensitivity to loud noise?
Which can also make you feel a bit aggravated, honestly. Many individuals who experience this will feel like they’re going mad. That’s because they can’t determine how loud things are. Imagine, all of your friends, family, and acquaintances seem to validate you’re losing your hearing, but you have this sudden sensitivity to loud sound. How can that be?
A condition known as auditory recruitment can cause these symptoms. this is how it works:
- The inside of your ears are covered with tiny hairs called stereocilia. When soundwaves enter into your ears, these hairs vibrate and your brain converts that signal into sounds.
- Age-related “sensorineural” hearing loss occurs as these hairs are damaged. Loud sounds can damage the hairs over time, and once they are damaged, they never heal. Your hearing becomes more muffled as a result. The more damaged hairs you have, the less you can hear.
- But this isn’t an evenly occurring process. There will be a combination of healthy and damaged hairs.
- So when you hear a loud sound, the damaged hairs “recruit” the healthy hairs (thus the name of the condition) to send an alarmed message to your brain. So, all of a sudden, everything gets very loud because all of your stereocilia are firing (just like they would with any other loud noise).
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.
Sounds like hyperacusis
You may think that these symptoms sound a bit familiar. That’s most likely because they’re frequently confused with a condition known as hyperacusis. When you first compare them, this confusion is easy to understand. Both conditions can cause sounds to get really loud suddenly.
But there are a few key differences:
- While hyperacusis has no link to hearing loss, there is a direct connection between auditory recruitment and hearing loss.
- Noises that are normal objectively will sound really loud for someone who has hyperacusis. Think about it this way: When you’re experiencing auditory recruitment, a shout sounds like a shout; but a whisper could sound like a shout with hyperacusis.
- Hyperacusis is painful. Literally. Feeling pain is common for individuals who have hyperacusis. That’s not always the situation with auditory recruitment.
At the end of the day, auditory recruitment and hyperacusis have some superficially similar symptoms. But they are very different conditions.
Is there any treatment for audio recruitment?
The bad news is that there’s no cure for hearing loss. Your hearing will never come back once it goes. Treatment of hearing loss can largely prevent this.
This also is true for auditory recruitment. Luckily, there are ways to effectively treat auditory recruitment. Normally, hearing aids are part of that treatment. And there’s a particular calibration for those hearing aids. That’s why addressing auditory recruitment will almost always require making an appointment with us.
The precise frequencies of sound that are triggering your auditory recruitment will be identified. Your hearing aids can then be calibrated to reduce that wavelength of sound. 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 convey here).
Only specific types of hearing aid will be effective. Over-the-counter hearing aids or sound amplifiers, for example, don’t have the necessary technological sophistication and built-in sensitivity, so they will not be able to address your symptoms.
Contact us for an appointment
If you are suffering from sensitivity to loud sounds, it’s important to recognize that you can get relief. The bonus is that your new hearing aid will make everything sound clearer.
But it all begins by making an appointment. Many people who have hearing loss cope with hypersensitivity to loud noise.
It doesn’t need to keep making you miserable.