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

You know that it can be a challenge to get your partner’s attention if they have neglected hearing loss. Their name is the first thing you try saying. “Greg”, you say, but you used a standard, inside volume level, so you get nothing. You try saying Greg’s name a bit louder and still nothing. So you resort to shouting.

And that’s when Greg whirls around with absolutely no awareness of his comedic timing and says grouchily, “what are you shouting for?”

It’s not just stubbornness and impatience that create this interaction. Hypersensitivity to loud sound is frequently documented in those who have hearing loss. So it makes sense that Greg gets cranky when you shout his name after he repeatedly fails to hear you when you speak to him at a normal volume.

Can loud sounds seem louder with hearing loss?

Hearing loss can be a strange thing. The majority of time, you’ll hear less and less, particularly if your hearing loss remains unaddressed. 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 noisy. So loud that it can become uncomfortable. Maybe it’s someone shouting to get your attention or one of the explosions in the newest Transformers movie, it just becomes really loud really fast.

And you’ll wonder why you have this sensitivity to loud noise.

Which can also make you feel a little cranky, honestly. Many individuals will feel like they’re going crazy when they experience this. They have a difficult time determining how loud things are. You have a sudden sensitivity to loud sounds even as your family and friends are pointing out your very obvious hearing loss symptoms. It feels like a contradiction.

Auditory recruitment

A condition called auditory recruitment can trigger these symptoms. It works like this:

  • The interior of your ears are covered with tiny hairs called stereocilia. These hairs resonate when soundwaves enter your ears and this vibration is then converted to sounds by your brain.
  • Damage to these hairs is what brings about age-related sensorineural hearing loss. Loud sounds can damage the hairs over time, and once they are injured, they are unable to heal. Consequently, your hearing becomes less sensitive. Your level of hearing loss will be progressively more severe the more hairs that are compromised.
  • But this process doesn’t occur evenly. There is always some mixture of damaged hairs and healthy hairs.
  • So when you hear a loud noise, the impaired hairs “recruit” the healthy hairs (hence 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 very loud.

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

Sounds like hyperacusis

You may think that these symptoms sound a little familiar. That’s probably because they’re often confused with a condition called hyperacusis. That conflation is, at first, reasonable. Both conditions can cause sounds to get really loud all of a sudden.

But there are a few key differences:

  • While hyperacusis has no link to hearing loss, there is a direct connection between auditory recruitment and hearing loss.
  • When you’re dealing with hyperacusis, noises that are at an objectively ordinary volume seem really loud to you. Think about it this way: When you’re experiencing auditory recruitment, a shout sounds like a shout; but with hyperacusis, a whisper might sound like a shout.
  • Hyperacusis comes with pain. Literally. Most individuals who experience hyperacusis report feelings of pain. That’s not always the case 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’s no cure for hearing loss and that’s the bad news. Your hearing will never come back once it goes. Treatment of hearing loss can largely prevent this.

This also is true for auditory recruitment. Luckily, there are ways to effectively treat auditory recruitment. In most cases, that treatment will include hearing aids. And those hearing aids need to be specially calibrated. So it will be necessary to make 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 a very effective treatment.

Effective treatment can 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 get relief from your sensitivity to loud noise. You will also get the additional 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 noise.

You can get help so call us.

The content of this blog is the intellectual property of MedPB.com and is reprinted here with permission.

The site information is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. To receive a personalized free hearing test and hearing loss consultation, call today to set up an appointment.
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