A young woman by the window bothered by the loud construction work outside.

If you have a partner with neglected hearing loss, you realize that getting their attention can be… a struggle. First, you try to say their name. “Greg”, you say, but you used a regular, inside volume level, so you get no reply. You try saying Greg’s name a bit louder and still nothing. So you resort to shouting.

Well this time Greg hears you and grouchily asks what you’re shouting for.

This situation isn’t due to stubbornness or impatience. Hypersensitivity to loud sound is often reported in those with hearing loss. So it seems logical that Greg gets aggravated when you shout his name after he continually fails to hear you when you talk to him at a normal volume.

Can loud sounds seem louder with hearing loss?

Hearing loss can be a strange thing. Usually, hearing loss will cause your hearing to diminish, particularly if it goes untreated. But things can get really loud when you’re out at a busy restaurant or watching a Michael Bay movie. So loud that it can get uncomfortable. Maybe the movie suddenly gets really loud or somebody is yelling to get your attention.

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 crazy. They have a hard time determining 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.

Auditory recruitment

The cause of this noise sensitivity is a condition called auditory recruitment. Here’s how it works:

  • The inside of your ears are covered with tiny hairs called stereocilia. When soundwaves enter into your ears, these hairs resonate and your brain translates that signal into sounds.
  • Deterioration of these hairs is what causes age-related sensorineural hearing loss. Over time, these little hairs are permanently damaged by frequent exposure to loud sounds. Consequently, your hearing becomes less sensitive. Your level of hearing loss will be increasingly worse the more hairs that are damaged.
  • But this process doesn’t occur evenly. There will be a combination of healthy and damaged 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 message of alarm to your brain. All of a sudden, all of the stereocilia fire, and everything gets very loud.

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 a lot like hyperacusis

Those symptoms might sound a little familiar. That’s most likely because they’re frequently confused with a condition called hyperacusis. That conflation is, initially, understandable. Both conditions can cause sounds to get very loud all of a sudden.

But here are some significant differences:

  • Hyperacusis is not directly caused by hearing loss. Auditory recruitment definitely is.
  • When you have hyperacusis, noises that are at an objectively ordinary volume seem really loud to you. Think about it this way: A shout will still sound like a shout with auditory recruitment; but when you have hyperacusis, a whisper could sound like a shout.
  • Hyperacusis comes with pain. Literally. Feeling pain is common for individuals who have hyperacusis. With auditory recruitment, that’s usually not the situation.

It’s true that hyperacusis and auditory recruitment have a few similar symptoms. But they are not the same condition.

Can auditory recruitment be managed?

Here’s the bad news, there’s no cure for hearing loss. Your hearing will never come back once it goes. Addressing hearing loss early will go a long way to prevent this.

The same is true of auditory recruitment. Luckily, there are ways to effectively manage auditory recruitment. In most situations, 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 specific wavelengths of sound that are responsible for your auditory recruitment symptoms. Then your hearing aids will be dialed in to decrease the volume of those frequencies. It’s a very effective treatment.

Only certain types of hearing aid will be effective. Over-the-counter hearing aids or sound amplifiers, for example, don’t have the required technological sophistication and built-in sensitivity, so they will not be able to deal with your symptoms.

Make an appointment with us

It’s essential that you know that you can find relief from your sensitivity to loud sound. You will also get the extra benefit of using a hearing aid to enhance your life’s soundscape.

But scheduling an appointment is the first step. Many people who have hearing loss deal with hypersensitivity to loud sound.

You can get help so call us.

Call Today to Set Up an Appointment

The site information is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. To receive personalized advice or treatment, schedule an appointment.
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