If you have a partner with untreated hearing loss, you realize that getting their attention can be… a problem. Their name is the first thing you try saying. You say “Greg”, but you get no response because you used an inside volume level. You try raising your volume and saying Greg’s name again but he still doesn’t respond. So finally, you shout.
And that’s when Greg spins around with absolutely no recognition of his comedic timing and says grouchily, “why are you shouting?”
This interaction isn’t due to stubbornness or irritability. People with hearing loss often report hypersensitivity to loud sound. And this sensitivity to loud noises can help illustrate why Greg can’t hear his name at a normal volume but gets cranky when you shout at him.
Can loud sounds seem louder with hearing loss?
So, hearing loss is sort of curious. The majority of time, you’ll hear less and less, particularly if your hearing loss goes untreated. But every now and then, you’ll watch a Michael Bay movie, or be having a conversation, or be having dinner in a restaurant, and things will get really noisy. Uncomfortably loud. Maybe the movie suddenly gets really loud or somebody is yelling to get your attention.
And you’ll wonder why you’re so sensitive to loud noise.
Which can, honestly, put you in an irritable mood. Many people who experience this will feel like they’re going mad. They have a hard time determining how loud things are. You have a sudden sensitivity to loud sounds even as your friends and family are pointing out your very noticeable hearing loss symptoms. How is that possible?
A condition called auditory recruitment can cause these symptoms. It works like this:
- There are tiny hairs, called stereocilia, covering your inner ear. When soundwaves enter into your ears, these hairs resonate and your brain translates that signal into sounds.
- Age-related “sensorineural” hearing loss happens as these hairs are damaged. Loud sounds can degrade the hairs over time, and once they are injured, they never heal. Your hearing becomes duller as a result. The more compromised hairs you have, the less you can hear.
- But this process doesn’t occur evenly. There will be a combination of healthy and damaged hairs.
- So when you hear a loud sound, the damaged 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 is really loud because all of your stereocilia are firing (just as they would with any other loud sound).
Think about it like this: everything is silent except for the Michael Bay explosion. So it will seem louder, when that Michael Bay explosion occurs, than it normally would.
Sounds like hyperacusis
Those symptoms might sound a little familiar. That’s most likely because they’re typically confused with a condition known as hyperacusis. When you first compare them, this confusion is easy to understand. Both conditions can make sounds very loud all of a sudden.
But there are a few key differences:
- While hyperacusis has no connection to hearing loss, there is a direct connection between auditory recruitment and hearing loss.
- Noises that are normal objectively will sound really loud for someone who has hyperacusis. Think about it this way: A shout will still sound like a shout with auditory recruitment; but when you have hyperacusis, a whisper could sound like a shout.
- Hyperacusis comes with pain. Literally. Feeling pain is common for individuals who have hyperacusis. With auditory recruitment, that’s normally not the case.
At the end of the day, auditory recruitment and hyperacusis have some superficially similar symptoms. But they are not the same condition.
Can auditory recruitment be managed?
There isn’t any cure for hearing loss and that’s the bad news. Once your hearing goes, it’s gone. Treatment of hearing loss can prevent this, largely.
This also is true for auditory recruitment. Luckily, there are ways to successfully treat auditory recruitment. Normally, hearing aids are at the center of that treatment. And there’s a specific calibration for those hearing aids. So it will be necessary to schedule an appointment with us.
The precise frequencies of sound that are triggering your auditory recruitment will be determined. Your hearing aids can then be adjusted to reduce that wavelength of sound. It’s a very 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.
Reach out to us for an appointment
If you are suffering from sensitivity to loud sounds, it’s important to recognize that you can find relief. You will also get the extra benefit of using a hearing aid to improve your life’s soundscape.
But it all starts 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.