You know that it can be a challenge to get your partner’s attention if they have neglected hearing loss. Their name is the first thing you try saying. “Greg”, you say, but you used a normal, indoor volume level, so you get no reply. 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 recognition of his comedic timing and says grouchily, “what are you shouting for?”
This interaction isn’t the result of stubbornness or impatience. Hypersensitivity to loud sound is frequently documented in those who have hearing loss. So it makes sense 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 hearing loss make loud sounds even worse?
Hearing loss can be a strange thing. Typical, hearing loss will cause your hearing to diminish, especially if it goes untreated. But every now and then, you’ll watch a Michael Bay movie, or be talking with someone, or be having dinner in a restaurant, and things will get really loud. So loud that it can get uncomfortable. Maybe it’s somebody yelling to get your attention or one of the explosions in the latest Transformers movie, it just gets really loud really fast.
And you’ll think: Why am I so sensitive to loud noise?
Which can also make you feel a bit cranky, honestly. Many people will feel like they’re going crazy when they experience this. That’s because they can’t get a handle on 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 sound sensitivity is a condition known as auditory recruitment. Here’s how it works:
- There are little hairs, called stereocilia, covering the inside of your ear. When soundwaves enter into your ears, these hairs resonate and your brain translates that signal into sounds.
- Age-related “sensorineural” hearing loss occurs as these hairs are damaged. Loud sounds can degrade the hairs over time, and once they are damaged, they never heal. Your hearing becomes more muffled as a result. Your degree of hearing loss will be progressively worse the more hairs that are compromised.
- But this process doesn’t happen evenly. There will be a combination of healthy and damaged hairs.
- So when you hear a loud sound, the impaired 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 like this: everything is silent except for the Michael Bay explosion. So it’s going to seem louder, when that Michael Bay explosion occurs, than it normally would.
Sounds like hyperacusis
You might think that these symptoms sound a little familiar. That’s probably because they’re typically 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 some key differences:
- While hyperacusis has no connection to hearing loss, there is a direct connection between auditory recruitment and hearing loss.
- Noises that are normal objectively will sound very loud for someone who has hyperacusis. Think about it this way: A shout will still sound like a shout when you have auditory recruitment; but a whisper can sound like a shout for those who have hyperacusis.
- Hyperacusis comes with pain. Literally. Most people who experience hyperacusis report feeling pain. With auditory recruitment, that’s typically not the case.
Overall, auditory recruitment and hyperacusis have a few superficially similar symptoms. But they aren’t the same condition.
Can auditory recruitment be treated?
Here’s the bad news, there’s no cure for hearing loss. Once your hearing goes, it’s gone. Treatment of hearing loss can prevent this, largely.
This also is true for auditory recruitment. Luckily, there are ways to effectively manage auditory recruitment. Usually, hearing aids are part of that treatment. And there’s a particular calibration for those hearing aids. So it will be necessary to schedule an appointment with us.
The precise frequencies of sound that are causing your auditory recruitment will be determined. Your hearing aids can then be calibrated 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 convey here).
Only certain types of hearing aid will be effective. The symptoms can’t be addressed with over-the-counter hearing devices because they lack the technological sophistication.
Make an appointment with us
If you are noticing sensitivity to loud noises, 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. 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.