You know that it can be difficult to get your partner’s attention if they have untreated hearing loss. First, you try to say their name. You say “Greg”, but you get no response because you used an inside volume level. You try saying Greg’s name a bit louder and still nothing. So you resort to shouting.
And that’s when Greg whirls around with absolutely no appreciation of his comedic timing and says grouchily, “why are you shouting?”
It’s not just stubbornness and impatience that create this situation. 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 continually fails to hear you when you speak to him at a normal volume.
Can hearing loss make loud sounds even worse?
So, hearing loss is kind of curious. Usually, hearing loss will cause your hearing to decline, especially if it goes untreated. But things can get very loud when you’re out at a crowded 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 experience this will feel like they’re going crazy. That’s because they can’t get a handle on 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.
The cause of this noise sensitivity is a condition known as auditory recruitment. this is how it works:
- The inside of your ears are covered in tiny hairs called stereocilia. When soundwaves enter into your ears, these hairs resonate and your brain converts that signal into sounds.
- Age-related “sensorineural” hearing loss occurs as these hairs are damaged. Loud sounds can damage the hairs over time, and once they are damaged, they never heal. Your hearing becomes more muffled as a result. Your degree of hearing loss will be progressively worse the more hairs that are compromised.
- But this isn’t an evenly occurring process. There is always some combination of damaged hairs and healthy hairs.
- So when the impaired hairs are exposed to a loud noise, 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 gets very loud.
Think about it like this: everything is quiet except for the Michael Bay explosion. So it will seem louder, when that Michael Bay explosion occurs, than it normally would.
Isn’t that the same as hyperacusis?
Those symptoms might sound a little familiar. That’s likely because they’re often confused with a condition called hyperacusis. That confusion is, initially, reasonable. Both conditions can make sounds really loud all of a sudden.
But here are some considerable differences:
- Hyperacusis isn’t directly caused by hearing loss. Auditory recruitment absolutely is.
- Noises that are normal objectively will seem very loud for somebody who has hyperacusis. Think about it this way: A shout will still sound like a shout when you have auditory recruitment; but a whisper can sound like a shout with hyperacusis.
- Hyperacusis is painful. Literally. Feeling pain is common for people who have hyperacusis. That’s not necessarily the situation with auditory recruitment.
It’s true that hyperacusis and auditory recruitment have some similar symptoms. But they are not the same condition.
Can auditory recruitment be treated?
The bad news is that there’s no cure for hearing loss. Once your hearing goes, it’s gone. Treatment of hearing loss can prevent this, largely.
This also applies to auditory recruitment. But the good news is that auditory recruitment can be treated successfully. Typically, hearing aids are part 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 determine the particular wavelengths of sound that are causing your auditory recruitment symptoms. Then your hearing aids will be dialed in to decrease 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).
Effective treatment can only work with certain types of hearing aids. Over-the-counter hearing aids or sound amplifiers, for example, do not have the required technological sophistication and built-in sensitivity, so they will not be able to deal with your symptoms.
Call 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 better.
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.