You know that it can be challenging to get your partner’s attention if they have neglected hearing loss. 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 nothing. So you resort to shouting.
And that’s when Greg spins around with absolutely no awareness of his comedic timing and says grouchily, “why are you shouting?”
It’s not just stubbornness and impatience that cause this interaction. Individuals with hearing loss often report hypersensitivity to loud sound. And this sensitivity to loud noises can help explain why Greg can’t hear his name at a normal volume but gets aggravated when you shout at him.
Can hearing loss make loud sounds even worse?
Hearing loss can be a peculiar thing. Usually, hearing loss will cause your hearing to diminish, particularly if it goes untreated. But things can get really loud when you’re out at a packed restaurant or watching a Michael Bay movie. So loud that it can get uncomfortable. Maybe the movie gets really loud all of a sudden or somebody is shouting to get your attention.
And you’ll think: Why am I so sensitive to loud noise?
Which can also make you feel a little cranky, honestly. Many people will feel like they’re going mad when they notice this. That’s because they can’t determine how loud things are. Imagine, all of your friends, family, and acquaintances seem to confirm you’re losing your ability to hear, 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. Here’s how it works:
- There are tiny hairs, called stereocilia, that cover your inner ear. These hairs resonate when soundwaves enter your ears and this vibration is then translated 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. As a result, your hearing becomes less sensitive. The more damaged hairs you have, the less you can hear.
- But this is not an evenly occurring process. There will be a mixture of healthy and damaged hairs.
- So when the damaged hairs are exposed to a loud noise, the healthy hairs are “recruited” (hence the condition’s name) to send a message of alarm to your brain. So, suddenly, everything is really loud because all of your stereocilia are firing (just like they would with any other loud sound).
Think about it this way: That Michael Bay explosion is loud while everything else is quiet. So the Michael Bay explosion is going to seem louder (and more obnoxious) than it otherwise would!
Isn’t that exactly like hyperacusis?
Those symptoms might sound a little familiar. That’s likely because they’re often confused with a condition called hyperacusis. That confusion is, at first, reasonable. Auditory recruitment is a condition where you have a sensitivity to loud sounds, and hyperacusis is a condition where sounds very suddenly get loud.
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.
- Noises that are normal objectively will seem very loud for somebody who has hyperacusis. Think about it like this: When you have auditory recruitment, a shout sounds like a shout; but when you have hyperacusis, a whisper might sound like a shout.
- Hyperacusis causes pain. Literally. Feeling pain is common for individuals who have hyperacusis. That’s not necessarily the situation with auditory recruitment.
It’s true that hyperacusis and auditory recruitment have a few similar symptoms. But they are very different conditions.
Can auditory recruitment be managed?
There’s no cure for hearing loss and that’s the bad news. Your hearing will never return once it’s gone. Managing hearing loss early will go a long way to protect against this.
This also is true for auditory recruitment. Luckily, there are ways to successfully address auditory recruitment. In most cases, that treatment will include hearing aids. And those hearing aids need to be specifically calibrated. That’s why treating auditory recruitment will nearly always require scheduling an appointment with us.
We’ll be able to determine the specific wavelengths of sound that are responsible for your auditory recruitment symptoms. Your hearing aids can then be adjusted to diminish that wavelength of sound. It’s kind 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 certain 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 won’t be able to address your symptoms.
Schedule an appointment with us
It’s essential that you recognize that you can get relief from your sensitivity to loud sound. The bonus is that your new hearing aid will make everything sound better.
But it all begins by making an appointment. This hypersensitivity is a normal part of the hearing loss process, it happens to many, many people.
It doesn’t have to keep making you miserable.