If you have a partner with neglected hearing loss, you appreciate that getting their attention can be… a challenge. First, you try to say their name. You say “Greg”, but you get no response because you used an indoor volume level. You try raising your volume and saying Greg’s name again but he still doesn’t hear you. 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. Individuals with hearing loss frequently 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 talk to him at a normal volume.
Can loud sounds seem louder with hearing loss?
So, hearing loss can be kind of peculiar. The vast majority of time, you’ll hear less and less, especially if your hearing loss remains unaddressed. But things can get really loud when you’re out at a packed restaurant or watching a Michael Bay movie. 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 think: What’s causing this sensitivity to loud noise?
Which can also make you feel a little aggravated, honestly. Many people who notice this will feel like they’re going mad. They have a difficult time identifying how loud things are. 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 is that possible?
The cause of this noise sensitivity is a condition called auditory recruitment. this is how it works:
- There are tiny hairs, called stereocilia, covering your inner ear. These hairs resonate when soundwaves enter your ears and this vibration is then converted to sounds by your brain.
- Deterioration of these hairs is what brings about age-related sensorineural hearing loss. 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 level of hearing loss will be increasingly worse the more hairs that are damaged.
- But this process doesn’t take place evenly. 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 a warning message to your brain. So, all of a sudden, everything is very loud because all of your stereocilia are firing (just as they would with any other loud sound).
Think about it this way: everything is quiet except for the Michael Bay explosion. So the Michael Bay explosion is going to seem louder (and more obnoxious) than it would otherwise!
Sounds a lot like hyperacusis
You might think that these symptoms sound a little familiar. There is a condition called hyperacusis that has similar symptoms and the two are frequently confused. At first glance, this confusion is understandable. Auditory recruitment is a condition where you have a sensitivity to loud noises, and hyperacusis is a condition in which sounds very abruptly get loud.
But here are a few significant differences:
- Hyperacusis isn’t directly caused by hearing loss. Auditory recruitment absolutely is.
- Noises that are normal objectively will seem 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 with hyperacusis, a whisper may sound like a shout.
- Hyperacusis is painful. Literally. Feeling pain is common for individuals who have hyperacusis. That’s not always the situation with auditory recruitment.
It’s true that hyperacusis and auditory recruitment have a few similar symptoms. But they are not the same condition.
Is there any way to treat audio recruitment?
There’s no cure for hearing loss and that’s the bad news. Your hearing will never come back once it’s gone. Treating hearing loss early will go a long way to prevent this.
The same is true of auditory recruitment. But here’s the good news, auditory recruitment can be treated successfully. In most situations, that treatment will involve hearing aids. And there’s a particular calibration for those hearing aids. So it will be necessary to schedule an appointment with us.
We’ll be able to identify the specific wavelengths of sound that are responsible for your auditory recruitment symptoms. Your hearing aids can then be calibrated to diminish that wavelength of sound. 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).
Successful treatment will only work with specific types of hearing aids. Over-the-counter hearing aids or sound amplifiers, for example, don’t have the necessary technological sophistication and built-in sensitivity, so they won’t be able to address your symptoms.
Make an appointment with us
It’s essential that you recognize that you can get relief from your sensitivity to loud noise. You will also get the additional benefit of using a hearing aid to improve your life’s soundscape.
But it all starts by making an appointment. This hypersensitivity is a typical part of the hearing loss process, it happens to lots and lots of people.
It doesn’t have to keep making you miserable.