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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 untreated hearing loss. Their name is the first thing you try saying. You say “Greg”, but you get no answer because you used an indoor volume level. You try raising your volume and saying Greg’s name again but he still doesn’t hear you. So you resort to shouting.

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

This situation isn’t due to stubbornness or irritability. Hypersensitivity to loud sound is often documented in those with hearing loss. And this sensitivity to loud noises can help explain why Greg doesn’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 kind of peculiar. Usually, hearing loss will cause your hearing to diminish, especially if it goes untreated. But things can get really loud when you’re out at a busy restaurant or watching a Michael Bay movie. Uncomfortably loud. Maybe the movie suddenly gets really loud or somebody is yelling to get your attention.

And you’ll wonder why you have 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. They have a hard time determining how loud things are. You have a sudden sensitivity to loud sounds even as your friends and family are pointing out your very obvious hearing loss symptoms. How can that be?

Auditory recruitment

The cause of this sound sensitivity is a condition called auditory recruitment. It works like this:

  • The inside of your ears are covered with tiny hairs known as 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 produces age-related sensorineural hearing loss. Over time, these delicate hairs are permanently damaged by repeated exposure to loud sounds. Consequently, your hearing becomes less sensitive. The more compromised hairs you have, the less you’re able to hear.
  • But this is not an evenly occurring process. There is always some combination of damaged hairs and healthy hairs.
  • So when you hear a loud noise, the damaged hairs “recruit” the healthy hairs (hence the name of the condition) to send a warning message to your brain. So, all of a sudden, everything gets really loud because all of your stereocilia are firing (just as they would with any other loud sound).

Think about it this way: everything is quiet except for the Michael Bay explosion. So the Michael Bay explosion is going to seem louder (and more obnoxious) than it would otherwise!

Isn’t that the same as hyperacusis?

Those symptoms may sound a little familiar. That’s most likely because they’re typically confused with a condition known as hyperacusis. That confusion is, initially, understandable. Both conditions can cause sounds to get very loud all of a sudden.

But there are a few key differences:

  • While hyperacusis has no connection to hearing loss, there is a direct link between auditory recruitment and hearing loss.
  • When you have hyperacusis, noises that are at an objectively normal volume seem extremely loud to you. Think about it this way: A shout will still sound like a shout when you have auditory recruitment; but a whisper can sound like a shout with hyperacusis.
  • Hyperacusis is painful. Literally. Feeling pain is common for people with hyperacusis. That’s not always the situation with auditory recruitment.

It’s true that hyperacusis and auditory recruitment have a few similar symptoms. But they are very different conditions.

Can auditory recruitment be managed?

There isn’t any cure for hearing loss and that’s the bad news. Once your hearing goes, it’s gone. Addressing hearing loss early will go a long way to prevent this.

The same goes for auditory recruitment. Fortunately, there are ways to effectively treat auditory recruitment. Normally, hearing aids are part of that treatment. And there’s a particular calibration for those hearing aids. That’s why treating auditory recruitment will almost always require scheduling an appointment with us.

The precise frequencies of sound that are triggering your auditory recruitment will be determined. 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 instance, don’t have the required technological sophistication and built-in sensitivity, so they won’t be able to address your symptoms.

Call us for an appointment

If you are experiencing sensitivity to loud sounds, it’s important to recognize that you can find relief. You will also get the additional benefit of using a hearing aid to improve 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.

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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