You know that it can be difficult to get your partner’s attention if they have neglected hearing loss. First, you try to use their name. “Greg”, you say, but you used a standard, inside volume level, so you get no reply. 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 appreciation of his comedic timing and says grouchily, “what are you shouting for?”
It’s not just stubbornness and irritability that create this interaction. Hypersensitivity to loud sound is frequently reported in those with hearing loss. So it seems logical 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 worse?
So, hearing loss is kind of curious. The majority of time, you’ll hear less and less, especially if your hearing loss goes unaddressed. 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 loud. So loud that it can become 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 have this sensitivity to loud noise.
Which can, truthfully, put you in a cranky mood. Many people who experience this will feel like they’re going crazy. That’s because they can’t get a handle on how loud anything is. Imagine, all of your friends, family, and acquaintances seem to validate you’re losing your ability to hear, but you have this sudden sensitivity to loud sound. How can that be?
A condition called auditory recruitment can trigger these symptoms. It works like this:
- The interior of your ears are covered in tiny hairs known as stereocilia. These hairs vibrate when soundwaves enter your ears and this vibration is then converted to sounds by your brain.
- Age-related “sensorineural” hearing loss occurs as these hairs deteriorate. Loud sounds can degrade the hairs over time, and once they are damaged, they are unable to heal. As a result, your hearing becomes less sensitive. Your level of hearing loss will be progressively more severe the more hairs that are compromised.
- But this process doesn’t occur evenly. There is always some mixture of damaged and healthy hairs.
- So when the impaired hairs are exposed to a loud sound, the healthy hairs are “recruited” (thus the condition’s name) to send a message of alarm to your brain. Suddenly, all of the stereocilia fire, and everything becomes very loud.
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 would otherwise!
Isn’t that the same as hyperacusis?
You might think that these symptoms sound a little familiar. There is a condition known as hyperacusis that has comparable symptoms and the two are often confused. 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 some key differences:
- While hyperacusis has no connection to hearing loss, there is a direct link 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 when you have auditory recruitment; but a whisper could sound like a shout with hyperacusis.
- Hyperacusis comes with pain. Literally. Feeling pain is common for individuals who have hyperacusis. With auditory recruitment, that’s usually not the case.
At the end of the day, auditory recruitment and hyperacusis have some superficially similar symptoms. But they are quite different conditions.
Can auditory recruitment be treated?
The bad news is that there’s no cure for hearing loss. Once your hearing is gone, it’s gone. Treatment of hearing loss can prevent this, largely.
This also applies to auditory recruitment. Fortunately, there are ways to effectively manage auditory recruitment. Typically, hearing aids are at the center of that treatment. And those hearing aids need to be specifically calibrated. So it will be necessary to schedule an appointment with us.
We’ll be able to identify the specific wavelengths of sound that are causing your auditory recruitment symptoms. Then your hearing aids will be dialed in to reduce the volume of those frequencies. It’s sort of like magic, only it’s using science and technology (so, not really like magic at all, but it works really well is what we’re trying to communicate here).
Only certain types of hearing aid will be effective. Over-the-counter hearing aids or sound amplifiers, for example, do not have the necessary technological sophistication and built-in sensitivity, so they will not be able to deal with your symptoms.
Make an appointment with us
It’s essential that you recognize that you can get relief from your sensitivity to loud sound. You will also get the added benefit of using a hearing aid to improve your life’s soundscape.
But it all begins by scheduling an appointment. This hypersensitivity is a natural part of the hearing loss process, it happens to many, many people.
It doesn’t need to keep making you miserable.