If you have a partner with untreated hearing loss, you appreciate that getting their attention can be… a problem. Their name is the first thing you try saying. “Greg”, you say, but you used a standard, indoor volume level, so you get nothing. You try raising your volume and saying Greg’s name again but he still doesn’t respond. So you resort to shouting.
And that’s when Greg spins around with absolutely no awareness of his comedic timing and says grouchily, “what are you shouting for?”
It’s not just stubbornness and impatience that create this situation. People with hearing loss frequently report hypersensitivity to loud sound. And this sensitivity to loud noises can help explain why Greg doesn’t hear his name at a normal volume but gets aggravated when you shout at him.
Can hearing loss make loud sounds worse?
Hearing loss can be a strange thing. The vast majority of time, you’ll hear less and less, particularly if your hearing loss 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, truthfully, put you in an irritable mood. Many individuals who experience this will feel like they’re going crazy. They have a difficult time determining how loud things are. Imagine, all of your friends, family, and acquaintances seem to confirm you’re losing your hearing, but you have this sudden sensitivity to loud sound. How is that possible?
The cause of this sound sensitivity is a condition known as auditory recruitment. this is how it works:
- The inside of your ears are covered in tiny hairs known as stereocilia. When soundwaves enter into your ears, these hairs resonate and your brain converts that signal into sounds.
- Damage to these hairs is what produces age-related sensorineural hearing loss. Loud sounds can degrade the hairs over time, and once they are injured, they never heal. Your hearing becomes duller as a result. Your degree of hearing loss will be progressively more severe 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 the damaged hairs are exposed to a loud noise, the healthy hairs are “recruited” (thus the condition’s name) to send a message of alarm to your brain. All of a sudden, all of the stereocilia fire, and everything becomes very loud.
Think about it this way: everything is quiet 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. There is a condition known as hyperacusis that has comparable symptoms and the two are often confused. At first glance, this confusion is understandable. Auditory recruitment is a condition where you have a sensitivity to loud sounds, and hyperacusis is a condition in which sounds very abruptly get loud.
But here are some substantial differences:
- While hyperacusis has no link to hearing loss, there is a direct connection between auditory recruitment and hearing loss.
- When you have hyperacusis, noises that are at an objectively ordinary volume seem really loud to you. Think about it like this: When you have auditory recruitment, a shout sounds like a shout; but with hyperacusis, a whisper might sound like a shout.
- Hyperacusis is painful. Literally. Feeling pain is common for individuals with hyperacusis. That’s not always the case with auditory recruitment.
At the end of the day, auditory recruitment and hyperacusis have a few superficially similar symptoms. But they are not the same condition.
Can auditory recruitment be treated?
There’s no cure for hearing loss and that’s the bad news. Once your hearing is gone, it’s gone. Treatment of hearing loss can prevent this, largely.
The same is true of auditory recruitment. But the good news is that auditory recruitment can successfully be treated. In most situations, that treatment will include hearing aids. And those hearing aids have to be specially calibrated. That’s why treating auditory recruitment will nearly always require making an appointment with us.
We’ll be able to identify the specific wavelengths of sound that are responsible for your auditory recruitment symptoms. Then your hearing aids will be dialed in to lower the volume of those frequencies. It’s a really effective treatment.
Successful treatment can only work with certain types of hearing aids. The symptoms can’t be managed with over-the-counter hearing devices because they lack the technological sophistication.
Call us for an appointment
It’s essential that you know that you can find relief from your sensitivity to loud sound. You will also get the extra benefit of using a hearing aid to enhance your life’s soundscape.
But scheduling an appointment is the first step. Lots of people who have hearing loss deal with hypersensitivity to loud noise.
You can get help so call us.