If you have a partner with neglected hearing loss, you know that getting their attention can be… a problem. Their name is the first thing you try saying. You say “Greg”, but you get no answer because you used an inside volume level. You try saying Greg’s name a bit louder and still no reply. So you resort to shouting.
And that’s when Greg spins around with absolutely no recognition of his comedic timing and says grouchily, “what are you shouting for?”
It’s not just stubbornness and irritability that cause this interaction. Individuals with hearing loss often report hypersensitivity to loud sound. So it makes sense that Greg gets aggravated 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 can be kind of curious. The majority of time, you’ll hear less and less, especially if your hearing loss goes unaddressed. But things can get very loud when you’re out at a crowded restaurant or watching a Michael Bay movie. So loud that it can get uncomfortable. Maybe it’s somebody yelling to get your attention or one of the explosions in the newest Transformers film, it just gets really loud really fast.
And you’ll think: What’s causing this sensitivity to loud noise?
Which can, truthfully, put you in a cranky mood. Many individuals will feel like they’re going crazy when they experience this. That’s because they can’t get a handle on how loud anything is. You have a sudden sensitivity to loud sounds even as your friends and family are pointing out your very noticeable hearing loss symptoms. It feels like a contradiction.
A condition called auditory recruitment can cause these symptoms. Here’s how it works:
- The interior of your ears are covered in tiny hairs called 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 happens as these hairs are damaged. Over time, these fragile hairs are permanently damaged by frequent exposure to loud sounds. Your hearing becomes more muffled as a result. Your degree of hearing loss will be increasingly 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 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, suddenly, 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 silent except for the Michael Bay explosion. So the Michael Bay explosion will seem louder (and more obnoxious) than it would otherwise!
Sounds like hyperacusis
You might think that these symptoms sound a bit familiar. There is a condition known as hyperacusis that has comparable symptoms and the two are frequently confused. That confusion is, at first, understandable. Both conditions can make sounds very loud all of a sudden.
But here are a few significant differences:
- Hyperacusis is not directly related to hearing loss. Auditory recruitment certainly is.
- Noises that are normal objectively will seem very loud for someone who has hyperacusis. Think about it like this: When you have auditory recruitment, a shout sounds like a shout; but when you have hyperacusis, a whisper might sound like a shout.
- Hyperacusis is painful. Literally. Most individuals who cope with hyperacusis report feelings of pain. That’s not always the case with auditory recruitment.
At the end of the day, auditory recruitment and hyperacusis have a few superficially similar symptoms. But they are entirely different conditions.
Can auditory recruitment be managed?
There’s no cure for hearing loss and that’s the bad news. Once your hearing is gone, it’s gone. Treatment of hearing loss can largely prevent this.
The same goes for auditory recruitment. But here’s the good news, auditory recruitment can be treated successfully. Typically, hearing aids are at the center of that treatment. And there’s a particular calibration for those hearing aids. So it will be necessary to make an appointment with us.
The exact frequencies of sound that are causing your auditory recruitment will be determined. Then your hearing aids will be dialed in to lower the volume of those frequencies. It’s a really effective treatment.
Only certain types of hearing aid will be successful. The symptoms can’t be managed with over-the-counter hearing devices because they lack the technological sophistication.
Make an appointment with us
It’s essential that you recognize that you can find relief from your sensitivity to loud sound. The bonus is that your new hearing aid will make everything sound clearer.
But scheduling an appointment is the first step. 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.