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

If you have a partner with neglected hearing loss, you know that getting their attention can be… a challenge. First, you try to use their name. You say “Greg”, but you get no answer because you used an inside 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 appreciation of his comedic timing and says grouchily, “what are you shouting for?”

It’s not just stubbornness and impatience that create this situation. People with hearing loss often report hypersensitivity to loud sound. And this sensitivity to loud noises can help explain 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?

So, hearing loss can be sort of curious. The majority of time, you’ll hear less and less, especially if your hearing loss remains untreated. But every now and then, you’ll watch a Michael Bay movie, or be talking with someone, or be eating in a restaurant, and things will get really noisy. Uncomfortably loud. Maybe the movie suddenly gets really loud or somebody is shouting to get your attention.

And you’ll wonder why you’re so sensitive to loud noise.

Which can also make you feel a little aggravated, honestly. Many individuals will feel like they’re going crazy when they experience this. They have a difficult time identifying how loud things are. Imagine, all of your friends, family, 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 known as auditory recruitment. this is how it works:

  • The interior of your ears are covered in tiny hairs called stereocilia. When soundwaves enter into your ears, these hairs resonate and your brain translates that signal into sounds.
  • Damage to these hairs is what causes age-related sensorineural hearing loss. Over time, these fragile hairs are permanently damaged by frequent exposure to loud sounds. As a result, your hearing becomes less sensitive. The more damaged hairs you have, the less you can hear.
  • But this is not an evenly occurring process. There is always some combination of damaged and healthy hairs.
  • So when you hear a loud sound, the impaired hairs “recruit” the healthy hairs (thus the name of the condition) to send an alarmed message to your brain. All of a sudden, all of the stereocilia fire, and everything gets really loud.

Think about it like this: That Michael Bay explosion is loud but everything else is quiet. So it’s going to seem louder, when that Michael Bay explosion occurs, than it normally would.

Isn’t that the same as hyperacusis?

You may think that these symptoms sound a little familiar. There is a condition known as hyperacusis that has comparable symptoms and the two are frequently confused. That conflation is, at first, reasonable. Auditory recruitment is a condition where you have a sensitivity to loud noises, and hyperacusis is a condition in which sounds very suddenly get loud.

But there are a few key differences:

  • Hyperacusis isn’t directly caused by hearing loss. Auditory recruitment absolutely is.
  • When you have hyperacusis, noises that are at an objectively normal 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 can sound like a shout with hyperacusis.
  • Hyperacusis causes pain. Literally. Feeling pain is common for people with hyperacusis. With auditory recruitment, that’s typically not the case.

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

Is there any way to treat audio recruitment?

Here’s the bad news, there’s no cure for hearing loss. Once your hearing is gone, it’s gone. Treatment of hearing loss can largely prevent this.

This also is true for auditory recruitment. Luckily, there are ways to effectively manage auditory recruitment. In most cases, that treatment will involve hearing aids. And those hearing aids have to be specially calibrated. That’s why addressing auditory recruitment will almost always require making an appointment with us.

The exact frequencies of sound that are triggering your auditory recruitment will be determined. Your hearing aids can then be adjusted 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 effectively is what we’re trying to communicate here).

Only certain types of hearing aid will be successful. The symptoms can’t be addressed with over-the-counter hearing devices because they lack the technological sophistication.

Reach out to us for an appointment

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

But it all begins by making an appointment. This hypersensitivity is a normal part of the hearing loss process, it happens to lots and lots of people.

You can get help so call us.

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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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