If you have a partner with untreated hearing loss, you know that getting their attention can be… a struggle. First, you try to say their name. “Greg”, you say, but you used a regular, indoor volume level, so you get no reply. You try increasing your volume and saying Greg’s name again but he still doesn’t hear you. So finally, you shout.
Well this time Greg hears you and grouchily asks what you’re shouting for.
It’s not just stubbornness and irritability that cause this situation. People with hearing loss often report hypersensitivity to loud sound. So it makes sense that Greg gets cranky when you shout his name after he repeatedly fails to hear you when you speak to him at a normal volume.
Can hearing loss make loud sounds even worse?
Hearing loss can be a peculiar 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 packed restaurant or watching a Michael Bay movie. 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 wonder why you have this sensitivity to loud noise.
Which can, honestly, put you in a cranky mood. Many people who notice this will feel like they’re going crazy. 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 family and friends are pointing out your very noticeable hearing loss symptoms. It feels like a contradiction.
The cause of this noise sensitivity is a condition known as auditory recruitment. It works like this:
- There are tiny hairs, called stereocilia, covering the inside of your ear. When soundwaves enter into your ears, these hairs resonate and your brain converts that signal into sounds.
- Age-related “sensorineural” hearing loss takes place 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 can hear.
- But this process doesn’t take place evenly. There will be a mixture of healthy and damaged hairs.
- So when you hear a loud noise, the impaired hairs “recruit” the healthy hairs (hence the name of the condition) to send a warning message to your brain. So, all of a sudden, everything gets really loud because all of your stereocilia are firing (just like they would with any other loud noise).
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 otherwise would!
Isn’t that the same as hyperacusis?
Those symptoms might sound a little familiar. That’s likely because they’re frequently confused with a condition called hyperacusis. When you first compare them, this confusion is easy to understand. Auditory recruitment is a condition where you have a sensitivity to loud sounds, and hyperacusis is a condition where sounds very suddenly get loud.
But there are a few 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 sound very loud for somebody who has hyperacusis. Think about it like this: A shout will still sound like a shout when you have auditory recruitment; but with hyperacusis, a whisper may sound like a shout.
- Hyperacusis is painful. Literally. Feeling pain is common for individuals with hyperacusis. With auditory recruitment, that’s normally not the case.
It’s true that hyperacusis and auditory recruitment have a few similar symptoms. But they are quite different conditions.
Is there any treatment for audio recruitment?
The bad news is that there’s no cure for hearing loss. Your hearing will never come back once it’s gone. Managing hearing loss early will go a long way to protect against this.
The same is true of auditory recruitment. Luckily, there are ways to successfully manage auditory recruitment. 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 scheduling 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 calibrated to reduce that wavelength of sound. It’s kind of like magic, but it’s using science and technology (so, not really like magic at all, but it works really effectively is what we’re trying to convey here).
Only certain types of hearing aid will be successful. 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 noticing sensitivity to loud sounds, it’s important to recognize that you can find relief. The bonus is that your new hearing aid will make everything sound clearer.
But it all begins by making an appointment. This hypersensitivity is a normal part of the hearing loss process, it happens to many, many people.
You can get help so call us.