If you have a partner with untreated hearing loss, you realize that getting their attention can be… a challenge. First, you try to use their name. “Greg”, you say, but you used a regular, inside volume level, so you get nothing. You try saying Greg’s name a little louder and still nothing. So finally, you shout.
Well this time Greg hears you and crossly asks what you’re yelling for.
This interaction isn’t the result of stubbornness or impatience. Individuals with hearing loss frequently report hypersensitivity to loud sound. And this sensitivity to loud noises can help explain why Greg doesn’t hear his name at a normal volume but gets cranky when you shout at him.
Can hearing loss make loud sounds even worse?
So, hearing loss is sort of peculiar. Typical, hearing loss will cause your hearing to decline, especially if it goes untreated. But every once in a while, you’ll watch a Michael Bay movie, or be talking with someone, or be eating in a restaurant, and things will get really loud. Uncomfortably loud. Maybe it’s somebody yelling to get your attention or one of the explosions in the latest Transformers movie, it just gets really loud really fast.
And you’ll think: Why am I so sensitive 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 determine 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. It feels like a contradiction.
The cause of this noise sensitivity is a condition called auditory recruitment. It works like this:
- The inside of your ears are covered with tiny hairs known as stereocilia. These hairs resonate 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. Consequently, your hearing becomes less sensitive. The more damaged hairs you have, the less you can hear.
- But this isn’t an evenly occurring process. There is always some combination of damaged hairs and healthy hairs.
- So when you hear a loud sound, 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 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 a lot like hyperacusis
Those symptoms might sound a little familiar. There is a condition known as 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 where sounds very suddenly get loud.
But here are some significant 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 really loud for someone who has hyperacusis. Think about it like this: When you have auditory recruitment, a shout sounds like a shout; but with hyperacusis, a whisper might sound like a shout.
- Hyperacusis comes with pain. Literally. Feeling pain is common for people with hyperacusis. That’s not always the situation with auditory recruitment.
Overall, auditory recruitment and hyperacusis have a few superficially similar symptoms. But they are quite different conditions.
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.
The same is true of auditory recruitment. But the good news is that auditory recruitment can successfully be treated. In most cases, that treatment will include hearing aids. And those hearing aids need to be specially calibrated. So it will be necessary to schedule an appointment with us.
We’ll be able to identify the particular wavelengths of sound that are responsible for 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 well is what we’re trying to communicate here).
Effective treatment will only be accomplished with specific types of hearing aids. The symptoms can’t be managed with over-the-counter hearing devices because they lack the technological sophistication.
Call us for an appointment
If you are noticing sensitivity to loud sounds, it’s important to know that you can get relief. The bonus is that your new hearing aid will make everything sound better.
But making an appointment is the starting point. Many people who have hearing loss cope with hypersensitivity to loud sound.
You can get help so call us.