You know that it can be a challenge to get your partner’s attention if they have untreated hearing loss. Their name is the first thing you try saying. “Greg”, you say, but you used a normal, inside volume level, so you get no reply. 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 whirls around with absolutely no awareness of his comedic timing and says grouchily, “why are you shouting?”
This interaction isn’t due to stubbornness or impatience. Individuals with hearing loss often report hypersensitivity to loud sound. So it makes sense that Greg gets aggravated when you shout his name after he continually fails to hear you when you talk to him at a normal volume.
Can loud sounds seem louder with hearing loss?
Hearing loss can be a peculiar thing. Normally, hearing loss will cause your hearing to decline, especially if it goes untreated. But things can get really loud when you’re out at a crowded restaurant or watching a Michael Bay movie. Uncomfortably loud. Maybe the movie gets really loud all of a sudden or somebody is shouting to get your attention.
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 determine how loud anything is. Imagine, all of your friends, family, and acquaintances seem to validate you’re losing your hearing, but you have this sudden sensitivity to loud sound. It feels like a contradiction.
The cause of this noise sensitivity is a condition known as auditory recruitment. It works like this:
- The interior of your ears are covered in tiny hairs known as stereocilia. These hairs resonate when soundwaves enter your ears and this vibration is then translated to sounds by your brain.
- Age-related “sensorineural” hearing loss happens as these hairs are damaged. Over time, these little hairs are permanently damaged by frequent exposure to loud sounds. Consequently, your hearing becomes less sensitive. The more damaged hairs you have, the less you can hear.
- But this is not an evenly occurring process. There will be a combination of healthy and damaged hairs.
- So when the damaged hairs are exposed to a loud noise, 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 gets really loud because all of your stereocilia are firing (just as they would with any other loud sound).
Think about it this way: That Michael Bay explosion is loud while everything else is quiet. So the Michael Bay explosion is going to seem louder (and more obnoxious) than it would otherwise!
Sounds a lot like hyperacusis
You may think that these symptoms sound a bit familiar. There is a condition called hyperacusis that has comparable symptoms and the two are frequently confused. At first glance, this confusion is easy to understand. Auditory recruitment is a condition where you have a sensitivity to loud noises, and hyperacusis is a condition in which sounds very abruptly get loud.
But there are a few key differences:
- Hyperacusis isn’t directly related to hearing loss. Auditory recruitment definitely is.
- When you’re dealing with hyperacusis, noises that are at an objectively ordinary volume seem very loud to you. Think about it like this: A shout will still sound like a shout with auditory recruitment; but with hyperacusis, a whisper could sound like a shout.
- Hyperacusis is painful. Literally. Most individuals who cope with hyperacusis report feelings of pain. With auditory recruitment, that’s normally not the situation.
It’s true that hyperacusis and auditory recruitment have a few 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. Your hearing will never return once it goes. Treatment of hearing loss can largely prevent this.
This also applies to auditory recruitment. But the good news is that auditory recruitment can be treated successfully. In most situations, that treatment will involve hearing aids. And there’s a specific calibration for those hearing aids. That’s why addressing auditory recruitment will nearly always require making an appointment with us.
We’ll be able to identify the specific wavelengths of sound that are causing your auditory recruitment symptoms. Your hearing aids can then be adjusted to reduce that wavelength of sound. It’s kind of like magic, only it’s using science and technology (so, not really like magic at all, but it works really well is what we’re trying to convey here).
Effective treatment will only work with certain types of hearing aids. The symptoms can’t be addressed with over-the-counter hearing devices because they lack the technological sophistication.
Reach out to 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 additional benefit of using a hearing aid to improve your life’s soundscape.
But scheduling an appointment is the first step. This hypersensitivity is a natural part of the hearing loss process, it happens to many, many people.
You can get help so call us.