If you have a partner with untreated hearing loss, you know that getting their attention can be… a struggle. Their name is the first thing you try saying. “Greg”, you say, but you used a standard, indoor volume level, so you get no reply. You try saying Greg’s name a bit louder and still no reply. So you resort to shouting.
And that’s when Greg spins around with absolutely no appreciation of his comedic timing and says grouchily, “what are you shouting for?”
It’s not just stubbornness and irritability that create this interaction. Individuals with hearing loss frequently report hypersensitivity to loud sound. So it seems logical 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 worse?
So, hearing loss is sort of curious. The majority of time, you’ll hear less and less, particularly if your hearing loss remains untreated. But things can get really loud when you’re out at a crowded restaurant or watching a Michael Bay movie. So loud that it can get uncomfortable. Maybe the movie gets really loud all of a sudden or someone is shouting to get your attention.
And you’ll wonder why you’re so sensitive to loud noise.
Which can also make you feel a bit aggravated, honestly. Many people who experience this will feel like they’re going mad. They have a hard time determining how loud things are. Imagine, all of your family, friends, and acquaintances seem to validate you’re losing your ability to hear, but you have this sudden sensitivity to loud sound. It feels like a contradiction.
A condition known as auditory recruitment can trigger these symptoms. It works like this:
- There are little hairs, called stereocilia, covering the inside of your ear. When soundwaves enter your ears, these hairs vibrate and your brain translates that signal into sounds.
- Age-related “sensorineural” hearing loss happens as these hairs deteriorate. Over time, these little hairs are permanently damaged by repeated exposure to loud sounds. Your hearing becomes duller as a result. The more damaged hairs you have, the less you’re able to hear.
- But this process doesn’t occur evenly. There will be a combination of healthy and damaged hairs.
- So when you hear a loud noise, the damaged hairs “recruit” the healthy hairs (thus the name of the condition) to send a warning message to your brain. Suddenly, all of the stereocilia fire, and everything gets very loud.
Think about it like this: everything is quiet except for the Michael Bay explosion. So the Michael Bay explosion is going to seem louder (and more obnoxious) than it otherwise would!
Isn’t that the same as hyperacusis?
You might think that these symptoms sound a little familiar. There is a condition called hyperacusis that has comparable symptoms and the two are frequently confused. That confusion is, at first, reasonable. Auditory recruitment is a condition in which you have a sensitivity to loud sounds, and hyperacusis is a condition in which sounds very suddenly get loud.
But there are a few key differences:
- Hyperacusis isn’t directly caused by hearing loss. Auditory recruitment definitely is.
- When you’re dealing with hyperacusis, noises that are at an objectively normal volume seem very loud to you. Think about it like this: When you’re experiencing auditory recruitment, a shout sounds like a shout; but with hyperacusis, a whisper may sound like a shout.
- Hyperacusis causes pain. Literally. Most individuals who cope with hyperacusis report feelings of pain. With auditory recruitment, that’s usually not the case.
Overall, auditory recruitment and hyperacusis have some superficially similar symptoms. But they are not the same condition.
Can auditory recruitment be treated?
Here’s the bad news, there’s no cure for hearing loss. Your hearing will never come back once it’s gone. Treatment of hearing loss can prevent this, largely.
This also is true for auditory recruitment. But the good news is that auditory recruitment can successfully be treated. Typically, hearing aids are part of that treatment. And those hearing aids need to be specially calibrated. That’s why treating auditory recruitment will nearly always require scheduling an appointment with us.
We’ll be able to identify the particular wavelengths of sound that are responsible for your auditory recruitment symptoms. Then your hearing aids will be dialed in to reduce the volume of those frequencies. It’s a very effective treatment.
Only certain types of hearing aid will be successful. Over-the-counter hearing aids or sound amplifiers, for instance, don’t have the required technological sophistication and built-in sensitivity, so they won’t be able to address your symptoms.
Contact us for an appointment
It’s essential that you know that you can get relief from your sensitivity to loud noise. The bonus is that your new hearing aid will make everything sound clearer.
But scheduling an appointment is the starting point. Lots of people who have hearing loss cope with hypersensitivity to loud noise.
You can get help so call us.