You know that it can be challenging to get your partner’s attention if they have untreated hearing loss. 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 respond. 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?”
It’s not just stubbornness and impatience that cause this situation. People with hearing loss often report hypersensitivity to loud sound. And this sensitivity to loud noises can help illustrate why Greg doesn’t hear his name at a normal volume but gets aggravated when you shout at him.
Can loud sounds seem louder with hearing loss?
So, hearing loss can be sort of peculiar. Usually, hearing loss will cause your hearing to diminish, especially if it goes untreated. 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 get uncomfortable. 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 a cranky mood. Many individuals who experience this will feel like they’re going crazy. They have a difficult time identifying how loud things are. You have a sudden sensitivity to loud sounds even as your family and friends are pointing out your very noticeable 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 with tiny hairs known as stereocilia. When soundwaves enter your ears, these hairs resonate and your brain translates that signal into sounds.
- Age-related “sensorineural” hearing loss happens as these hairs are damaged. 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 worse the more hairs that are compromised.
- But this process doesn’t take place evenly. There will be a combination of healthy and damaged hairs.
- So when the damaged hairs are exposed to a loud sound, the healthy hairs are “recruited” (thus the condition’s name) to send a signal of alarm to your brain. So, suddenly, 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: everything is silent except for the Michael Bay explosion. So the Michael Bay explosion is going to seem louder (and more obnoxious) than it otherwise would!
Isn’t that exactly like hyperacusis?
You might think that these symptoms sound a little familiar. That’s likely because they’re typically confused with a condition known as hyperacusis. When you first compare them, this confusion is easy to understand. Auditory recruitment is a condition in which you have a sensitivity to loud sounds, and hyperacusis is a condition where sounds very abruptly get loud.
But there are a few key differences:
- Hyperacusis isn’t directly caused by hearing loss. Auditory recruitment definitely is.
- Noises that are normal objectively will sound really loud for somebody who has hyperacusis. Think about it like this: A shout will still sound like a shout when you have auditory recruitment; but a whisper could sound like a shout with hyperacusis.
- Hyperacusis comes with pain. Literally. Most people who experience hyperacusis report feelings of pain. That’s not always the situation with auditory recruitment.
Overall, auditory recruitment and hyperacusis have some superficially similar symptoms. But they are very different conditions.
Is there any way to treat audio recruitment?
There isn’t any cure for hearing loss and that’s the bad news. Once your hearing is gone, it’s gone. Treating hearing loss early will go a long way to prevent this.
The same goes for auditory recruitment. But the good news is that auditory recruitment can be treated successfully. Typically, hearing aids are part of that treatment. And those hearing aids need to be specially calibrated. That’s why treating auditory recruitment will nearly always require making an appointment with us.
The exact frequencies of sound that are causing 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 communicate here).
Effective treatment can only work with specific types of hearing aids. 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 noises, it’s important to recognize that you can find relief. You will also get the additional benefit of using a hearing aid to improve your life’s soundscape.
But it all starts by scheduling an appointment. This hypersensitivity is a natural part of the hearing loss process, it happens to lots and lots of people.
It doesn’t need to keep making you miserable.