Coastal Hearing Aid Center - Encinitas, CA

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

You know that it can be challenging 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 regular, inside volume level, so you get nothing. You try saying Greg’s name a bit louder and still nothing. So finally, you shout.

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

This interaction isn’t due to stubbornness or impatience. Hypersensitivity to loud sound is often reported in those who have 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?

Hearing loss can be a strange thing. Typical, 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 packed restaurant or watching a Michael Bay movie. So loud that it can become uncomfortable. Maybe the movie gets really loud all of a sudden or somebody is yelling to get your attention.

And you’ll think: Why am I so sensitive to loud noise?

Which can also make you feel a little aggravated, honestly. Many people who notice this will feel like they’re going mad. 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 noticeable hearing loss symptoms. It feels like a contradiction.

Auditory recruitment

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

  • There are little hairs, known as stereocilia, that cover the inside of your ear. When soundwaves enter your ears, these hairs vibrate and your brain translates that signal into sounds.
  • Damage to these hairs is what causes 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 increasingly more severe the more hairs that are compromised.
  • But this process doesn’t occur evenly. There will be a mixture of healthy and damaged hairs.
  • So when you hear a loud noise, the impaired hairs “recruit” the healthy hairs (thus the name of the condition) to send a warning message to your brain. Suddenly, all of the stereocilia fire, and everything becomes really loud.

Think about it this way: 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.

Sounds like hyperacusis

You might think that these symptoms sound a bit familiar. That’s probably because they’re frequently confused with a condition called hyperacusis. That confusion is, initially, reasonable. Both conditions can make sounds really loud suddenly.

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’re dealing with hyperacusis, noises that are at an objectively normal volume seem very loud to you. Think about it this way: When you have auditory recruitment, a shout sounds like a shout; but when you have hyperacusis, a whisper could sound like a shout.
  • Hyperacusis is painful. Literally. Feeling pain is common for people with 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 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 protect against this.

The same goes for auditory recruitment. Luckily, there are ways to successfully treat auditory recruitment. Normally, hearing aids are part of that treatment. And there’s a specific calibration for those hearing aids. So it will be necessary to schedule an appointment with us.

The precise frequencies of sound that are causing your auditory recruitment will be identified. Your hearing aids can then be calibrated 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 convey here).

Effective treatment will only be accomplished with specific types of hearing aids. Over-the-counter hearing aids or sound amplifiers, for example, do not have the required technological sophistication and built-in sensitivity, so they will not be able to deal with your symptoms.

Call us for an appointment

If you are experiencing sensitivity to loud noises, it’s important to recognize that you can get relief. The bonus is that your new hearing aid will make everything sound better.

But making an appointment is the starting point. This hypersensitivity is a natural part of the hearing loss process, it happens to lots and lots of people.

It doesn’t need to keep making you miserable.

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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