You know that it can be challenging to get your partner’s attention if they have neglected hearing loss. Their name is the first thing you try saying. You say “Greg”, but you get no response because you used an indoor volume level. You try saying Greg’s name a little louder and still no reply. So you resort to shouting.
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 impatience that cause this interaction. Individuals with hearing loss frequently 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 hearing loss make loud sounds even worse?
Hearing loss can be a strange thing. Typical, hearing loss will cause your hearing to diminish, especially if it goes untreated. But every now and then, you’ll watch a Michael Bay movie, or be having a conversation, or be eating in a restaurant, and things will get really noisy. So loud that it can become uncomfortable. Maybe it’s someone yelling 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’re so sensitive to loud noise.
Which can also make you feel a bit cranky, honestly. Many people who notice this will feel like they’re going mad. That’s because they can’t get a handle on how loud things are. Imagine, all of your family, friends, and acquaintances seem to confirm you’re losing your ability to hear, but you have this sudden sensitivity to loud sound. It feels like a contradiction.
A condition called auditory recruitment can cause these symptoms. Here’s how it works:
- There are tiny hairs, known as 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 occurs as these hairs are damaged. Over time, these delicate hairs are permanently damaged by frequent exposure to loud sounds. Consequently, your hearing becomes less sensitive. Your degree of hearing loss will be increasingly more severe the more hairs that are compromised.
- But this process doesn’t happen evenly. There is always some combination of damaged hairs and healthy hairs.
- So when the impaired hairs are exposed to a loud sound, the healthy hairs are “recruited” (hence the condition’s name) to send a signal of alarm to your brain. Suddenly, all of the stereocilia fire, and everything gets very loud.
Think about it like this: That Michael Bay explosion is loud while everything else is quiet. So it’s going to seem louder, when that Michael Bay explosion occurs, than it normally would.
Isn’t that exactly like hyperacusis?
You might think that these symptoms sound a little familiar. That’s most likely because they’re frequently confused with a condition called hyperacusis. That confusion is, at first, 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 substantial differences:
- Hyperacusis is not directly related to hearing loss. Auditory recruitment absolutely is.
- When you’re dealing with hyperacusis, noises that are at an objectively ordinary volume seem very loud to you. Think about it like this: When you have auditory recruitment, a shout sounds like a shout; but a whisper could sound like a shout for those who have hyperacusis.
- Hyperacusis causes pain. Literally. Most people who experience hyperacusis report feeling pain. That’s not necessarily the case with auditory recruitment.
It’s true that hyperacusis and auditory recruitment have a few 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 is gone, it’s gone. Treating hearing loss early will go a long way to prevent this.
This also is true for auditory recruitment. Fortunately, there are ways to successfully manage auditory recruitment. Normally, hearing aids are part of that treatment. And those hearing aids have to be specifically calibrated. That’s why addressing auditory recruitment will nearly always require making an appointment with us.
The precise frequencies of sound that are triggering your auditory recruitment will be determined. Your hearing aids can then be calibrated to diminish that wavelength of sound. It’s a really effective treatment.
Successful treatment will only work 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
It’s essential that you know that you can find relief from your sensitivity to loud sound. The bonus is that your new hearing aid will make everything sound better.
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 need to keep making you miserable.