You know that it can be a challenge to get your partner’s attention if they have neglected hearing loss. First, you try to say their name. “Greg”, you say, but you used a standard, inside volume level, so you get nothing. You try saying Greg’s name a little louder and still no reply. So finally, you shout.
Well this time Greg hears you and grouchily asks what you’re shouting for.
This interaction isn’t due to stubbornness or impatience. Hypersensitivity to loud sound is frequently reported in those with hearing loss. And this sensitivity to loud noises can help illustrate why Greg can’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 vast majority of time, you’ll hear less and less, especially if your hearing loss remains untreated. But things can get really loud when you’re out at a busy restaurant or watching a Michael Bay movie. So loud that it can get uncomfortable. Maybe it’s someone shouting to get your attention or one of the explosions in the latest Transformers film, it just gets really loud really fast.
And you’ll think: What’s causing this sensitivity to loud noise?
Which can also make you feel a little aggravated, honestly. Many individuals who notice this will feel like they’re going mad. They have a hard time identifying how loud things are. Imagine, all of your family, friends, 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.
A condition called auditory recruitment can cause these symptoms. Here’s how it works:
- There are little hairs, known as stereocilia, covering your inner ear. These hairs resonate when soundwaves enter your ears and this vibration is then translated to sounds by your brain.
- Age-related “sensorineural” hearing loss takes place as these hairs are damaged. Loud sounds can damage the hairs over time, and once they are injured, they never heal. Consequently, your hearing becomes less sensitive. Your degree of hearing loss will be progressively worse the more hairs that are damaged.
- But this process doesn’t take place evenly. There will be a combination of healthy and damaged hairs.
- So when you hear a loud noise, the impaired hairs “recruit” the healthy hairs (hence the name of the condition) to send an alarmed message to your brain. So, suddenly, everything gets really loud because all of your stereocilia are firing (just like they would with any other loud sound).
Think about it like this: That Michael Bay explosion is loud but everything else is quiet. So the Michael Bay explosion will seem louder (and more obnoxious) than it would otherwise!
Sounds like hyperacusis
You may think that these symptoms sound a bit familiar. There is a condition called hyperacusis that has similar symptoms and the two are frequently confused. That conflation is, initially, understandable. Auditory recruitment is a condition where you have a sensitivity to loud noises, and hyperacusis is a condition where sounds very suddenly get loud.
But here are some significant differences:
- Hyperacusis is not directly caused by hearing loss. Auditory recruitment certainly is.
- Noises that are normal objectively will sound really loud for someone who has hyperacusis. Think about it this way: When you have auditory recruitment, a shout sounds like a shout; but a whisper can sound like a shout with hyperacusis.
- Hyperacusis is painful. Literally. Feeling pain is common for people who have hyperacusis. With auditory recruitment, that’s normally not the case.
At the end of the day, auditory recruitment and hyperacusis have a few superficially similar symptoms. But they aren’t the same condition.
Is there any treatment for audio recruitment?
There isn’t any cure for hearing loss and that’s the bad news. Once your hearing goes, it’s gone. Treatment of hearing loss can largely prevent this.
The same is true of auditory recruitment. Fortunately, there are ways to successfully address auditory recruitment. In most situations, that treatment will include hearing aids. 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.
We’ll be able to determine the particular wavelengths of sound that are causing your auditory recruitment symptoms. Then your hearing aids will be dialed in to decrease the volume of those frequencies. It’s sort of like magic, but it’s using science and technology (so, not really like magic at all, but it works really well is what we’re trying to communicate here).
Only certain types of hearing aid will be effective. The symptoms can’t be managed with over-the-counter hearing devices because they lack the technological sophistication.
Contact us for an appointment
If you are noticing 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 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.
You can get help so call us.