If you have a partner with neglected hearing loss, you realize that getting their attention can be… a problem. 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 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 shouting for.
It’s not just stubbornness and impatience that create 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 cranky when you shout at him.
Can hearing loss make loud sounds even worse?
Hearing loss can be a peculiar thing. Normally, hearing loss will cause your hearing to diminish, particularly if it goes untreated. But every now and then, you’ll watch a Michael Bay movie, or be having a conversation, or be eating in a restaurant, and things will get really noisy. Uncomfortably loud. Maybe it’s somebody 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 bit aggravated, honestly. Many individuals will feel like they’re going crazy when they notice this. That’s because they can’t get a handle on how loud anything is. You have a sudden sensitivity to loud sounds even as your friends and family are pointing out your very obvious hearing loss symptoms. How is that possible?
The cause of this noise sensitivity is a condition known as auditory recruitment. It works like this:
- The interior 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.
- Damage to these hairs is what brings about age-related sensorineural hearing loss. Loud sounds can damage the hairs over time, and once they are damaged, they are unable to heal. As a result, your hearing becomes less sensitive. Your level of hearing loss will be increasingly more severe the more hairs that are damaged.
- But this process doesn’t take place evenly. There is always some combination of damaged and healthy hairs.
- So when the impaired hairs are exposed to a loud noise, the healthy hairs are “recruited” (thus the condition’s name) to send a signal of alarm to your brain. So, suddenly, everything gets really loud because all of your stereocilia are firing (just like they would with any other loud noise).
Think about it like this: everything is quiet 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
Those symptoms may sound a little familiar. There is a condition called hyperacusis that has comparable symptoms and the two are frequently confused. When you first compare them, this confusion is understandable. 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 some key differences:
- While hyperacusis has no link to hearing loss, there is a direct connection between auditory recruitment and hearing loss.
- Noises that are normal objectively will seem really loud for someone who has hyperacusis. Think about it this way: A shout will still sound like a shout with auditory recruitment; but a whisper can sound like a shout for those who have hyperacusis.
- Hyperacusis comes with pain. Literally. Most individuals who cope with hyperacusis report feelings of pain. With auditory recruitment, that’s typically not the case.
It’s true that hyperacusis and auditory recruitment have some similar symptoms. But they are very different conditions.
Is there any way to treat audio recruitment?
There’s no cure for hearing loss and that’s the bad news. Your hearing will never come back once it’s gone. Treatment of hearing loss can prevent this, largely.
This also applies to auditory recruitment. But here’s the good news, auditory recruitment can successfully be treated. In most cases, that treatment will involve hearing aids. And those hearing aids have to be specially calibrated. That’s why addressing auditory recruitment will almost always require making an appointment with us.
The exact frequencies of sound that are causing your auditory recruitment will be determined. Your hearing aids can then be adjusted to diminish that wavelength of sound. It’s a very effective treatment.
Successful treatment will only be accomplished with certain types of hearing aids. Over-the-counter hearing aids or sound amplifiers, for instance, do not have the required technological sophistication and built-in sensitivity, so they won’t be able to deal with your symptoms.
Call us for an appointment
If you are suffering from sensitivity to loud noises, it’s important to realize that you can get relief. You will also get the added benefit of using a hearing aid to improve your life’s soundscape.
But making an appointment is the first step. Lots of people who have hearing loss cope with hypersensitivity to loud sound.
It doesn’t need to keep making you miserable.