If you have a partner with neglected hearing loss, you know that getting their attention can be… a struggle. First, you try to use their name. “Greg”, you say, but you used a standard, indoor volume level, so you get no reply. You try saying Greg’s name a little louder and still nothing. So you resort to shouting.
And that’s when Greg whirls around with absolutely no recognition of his comedic timing and says grouchily, “what are you shouting for?”
This interaction isn’t the result of stubbornness or impatience. Individuals with hearing loss often 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 speak to him at a normal volume.
Can loud sounds seem louder with hearing loss?
So, hearing loss is sort of curious. 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 crowded restaurant or watching a Michael Bay movie. So loud that it can get uncomfortable. Maybe the movie suddenly gets really loud or someone 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 aggravated, honestly. Many individuals who notice this will feel like they’re going crazy. They have a difficult time identifying 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. How is that possible?
The cause of this sound sensitivity is a condition known as auditory recruitment. this is how it works:
- The interior of your ears are covered with tiny hairs called stereocilia. These hairs resonate when soundwaves enter your ears and this vibration is then converted to sounds by your brain.
- Damage to these hairs is what brings about age-related sensorineural hearing loss. Over time, these fragile 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 is always some combination of damaged and healthy hairs.
- So when you hear a loud sound, the damaged 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: everything is silent except for the Michael Bay explosion. So it’s going to seem louder, when that Michael Bay explosion happens, than it normally would.
Isn’t that the same as hyperacusis?
Those symptoms may sound a little familiar. That’s likely because they’re often confused with a condition known as hyperacusis. When you first compare them, this confusion is understandable. Auditory recruitment is a condition in which you have a sensitivity to loud noises, and hyperacusis is a condition in which sounds very abruptly get loud.
But here are some substantial differences:
- While hyperacusis has no connection to hearing loss, there is a direct link between auditory recruitment and hearing loss.
- When you’re dealing with hyperacusis, noises that are at an objectively normal volume seem very loud to you. 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 is painful. Literally. Most individuals who experience hyperacusis report feeling pain. With auditory recruitment, that’s typically not the situation.
At the end of the day, auditory recruitment and hyperacusis have a few superficially 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. Once your hearing goes, it’s gone. Treatment of hearing loss can largely prevent this.
This also applies to auditory recruitment. But here’s the good news, auditory recruitment can be treated successfully. In most cases, that treatment will involve hearing aids. And there’s a specific calibration for those hearing aids. That’s why treating auditory recruitment will almost always require scheduling an appointment with us.
The precise frequencies of sound that are triggering your auditory recruitment will be determined. 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 effective. 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 additional benefit of using a hearing aid to enhance your life’s soundscape.
But it all starts by scheduling an appointment. This hypersensitivity is a normal part of the hearing loss process, it happens to many, many people.
It doesn’t need to keep making you miserable.