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

If you have a partner with untreated hearing loss, you realize that getting their attention can be… a problem. Their name is the first thing you try saying. “Greg”, you say, but you used a normal, indoor volume level, so you get no reply. You try increasing your volume and saying Greg’s name again but he still doesn’t respond. So you resort to shouting.

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

This interaction isn’t due to stubbornness or irritability. Hypersensitivity to loud sound is frequently documented in those who have hearing loss. And this sensitivity to loud noises can help illustrate why Greg doesn’t hear his name at a normal volume but gets aggravated when you shout at him.

Can loud sounds seem louder with hearing loss?

So, hearing loss can be sort of curious. Normally, hearing loss will cause your hearing to decline, particularly if it goes untreated. But things can get very loud when you’re out at a packed restaurant or watching a Michael Bay movie. Uncomfortably loud. Maybe the movie suddenly gets really loud or someone is shouting to get your attention.

And you’ll think: What’s causing this sensitivity to loud noise?

Which can, honestly, put you in a cranky mood. Many individuals who notice this will feel like they’re going crazy. They have a hard time figuring out how loud things are. You have a sudden sensitivity to loud sounds even as your family and friends are pointing out your very noticeable hearing loss symptoms. How is that possible?

Auditory recruitment

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

  • There are tiny hairs, called stereocilia, covering your inner ear. These hairs resonate when soundwaves enter your ears and this vibration is then translated to sounds by your brain.
  • Age-related “sensorineural” hearing loss occurs as these hairs are damaged. Loud sounds can degrade the hairs over time, and once they are injured, they are unable to heal. Consequently, your hearing becomes less sensitive. Your degree of hearing loss will be progressively worse the more hairs that are compromised.
  • But this isn’t an evenly occurring process. 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. Suddenly, all of the stereocilia fire, and everything gets very loud.

Think about it this way: That Michael Bay explosion is loud while 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 might think that these symptoms sound a bit familiar. There is a condition called hyperacusis that has comparable symptoms and the two are often confused. When you first compare them, this confusion is understandable. Both conditions can make sounds really loud all of a sudden.

But there are some key differences:

  • While hyperacusis has no connection to hearing loss, there is a direct connection between auditory recruitment and hearing loss.
  • 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 could sound like a shout for those who have hyperacusis.
  • Hyperacusis is painful. Literally. Feeling pain is common for individuals with hyperacusis. That’s not always the case with auditory recruitment.

At the end of the day, auditory recruitment and hyperacusis have some superficially similar symptoms. But they aren’t the same condition.

Is there any treatment for audio recruitment?

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

The same is true of auditory recruitment. But the good news is that auditory recruitment can successfully be treated. In most situations, that treatment will involve hearing aids. And there’s a specific calibration for those hearing aids. So it will be necessary to make an appointment with us.

The precise frequencies of sound that are causing your auditory recruitment will be identified. Then your hearing aids will be dialed in to lower the volume of those wavelengths. It’s a very effective treatment.

Only specific 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.

Schedule an appointment with us

It’s essential that you recognize that you can get relief from your sensitivity to loud sound. The bonus is that your new hearing aid will make everything sound clearer.

But it all starts by making an appointment. Lots of people who have hearing loss deal with hypersensitivity to loud noise.

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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