If you have a partner with neglected hearing loss, you realize that getting their attention can be… a challenge. First, you try to use their name. “Greg”, you say, but you used a regular, indoor volume level, so you get no reply. You try raising 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 grouchily asks what you’re yelling for.
It’s not just stubbornness and impatience that create this interaction. 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?
Hearing loss can be a strange thing. The majority of time, you’ll hear less and less, particularly if your hearing loss goes unaddressed. But every once in a while, you’ll watch a Michael Bay movie, or be talking with someone, or be having dinner in a restaurant, and things will get really noisy. So loud that it can get uncomfortable. Maybe the movie gets really loud all of a sudden or somebody is yelling to get your attention.
And you’ll wonder why you have this sensitivity to loud noise.
Which can also make you feel a bit aggravated, honestly. Many individuals who notice this will feel like they’re going mad. That’s because they can’t determine how loud anything is. 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 called auditory recruitment. Here’s how it works:
- The inside of your ears are covered with tiny hairs called stereocilia. These hairs resonate when soundwaves enter your ears and this vibration is then translated to sounds by your brain.
- Damage to these hairs is what brings about age-related sensorineural hearing loss. Loud sounds can degrade 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 process doesn’t occur evenly. There is always some combination of damaged hairs and healthy hairs.
- So when the impaired hairs are exposed to a loud sound, the healthy hairs are “recruited” (hence the condition’s name) to send a signal of alarm to your brain. So, all of a sudden, everything is really loud because all of your stereocilia are firing (just as they would with any other loud noise).
Think about it this way: everything is silent except for the Michael Bay explosion. So it will seem louder, when that Michael Bay explosion occurs, than it normally would.
Sounds a lot like hyperacusis
You may think that these symptoms sound a bit familiar. That’s probably because they’re often confused with a condition known as hyperacusis. That confusion is, initially, understandable. Auditory recruitment is a condition where you have a sensitivity to loud sounds, and hyperacusis is a condition where sounds very abruptly get loud.
But here are some substantial differences:
- Hyperacusis is not directly caused by hearing loss. Auditory recruitment certainly is.
- Noises that are normal objectively will seem really loud for someone who has hyperacusis. Think about it like this: A shout will still sound like a shout with auditory recruitment; but when you have hyperacusis, a whisper could sound like a shout.
- Hyperacusis causes pain. Literally. Feeling pain is common for individuals who have hyperacusis. That’s not always the case with auditory recruitment.
It’s true that hyperacusis and auditory recruitment have a few similar symptoms. But they aren’t the same condition.
Is there any way to treat audio recruitment?
The bad news is that there’s no cure for hearing loss. Once your hearing is gone, it’s gone. Treating hearing loss early will go a long way to prevent this.
This also is true for auditory recruitment. Luckily, there are ways to effectively manage auditory recruitment. In most situations, that treatment will involve hearing aids. And there’s a particular calibration for those hearing aids. That’s why addressing auditory recruitment will almost always require scheduling an appointment with us.
The precise frequencies of sound that are causing your auditory recruitment will be identified. Then your hearing aids will be dialed in to lower the volume of those frequencies. It’s a very effective treatment.
Only certain types of hearing aid will be successful. The symptoms can’t be managed with over-the-counter hearing devices because they lack the technological sophistication.
Schedule an appointment with us
If you are experiencing sensitivity to loud noises, it’s important to realize that you can get relief. You will also get the extra benefit of using a hearing aid to enhance your life’s soundscape.
But making an appointment is the first step. This hypersensitivity is a normal part of the hearing loss process, it happens to many, many people.
You can get help so call us.