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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 untreated 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 no reply. You try saying Greg’s name a little louder and still no reply. So finally, you shout.

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

This situation isn’t the result of stubbornness or impatience. Individuals with hearing loss often report hypersensitivity to loud sound. And this sensitivity to loud noises can help illustrate why Greg can’t hear his name at a normal volume but gets aggravated when you shout at him.

Can loud sounds seem louder with hearing loss?

Hearing loss can be a peculiar thing. The majority of time, you’ll hear less and less, especially if your hearing loss goes untreated. But things can get really loud when you’re out at a packed restaurant or watching a Michael Bay movie. Uncomfortably loud. Maybe the movie gets really loud all of a sudden or somebody is shouting to get your attention.

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

Which can also make you feel a bit aggravated, honestly. Many people will feel like they’re going crazy when they notice this. That’s because they can’t get a handle on 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 called auditory recruitment. Here’s how it works:

  • There are tiny hairs, called stereocilia, that cover the inside of your ear. When soundwaves enter your ears, these hairs resonate and your brain converts that signal into sounds.
  • Age-related “sensorineural” hearing loss occurs as these hairs deteriorate. Over time, these little hairs are permanently damaged by repeated exposure to loud sounds. Consequently, your hearing becomes less sensitive. Your level of hearing loss will be progressively worse the more hairs that are damaged.
  • But this is not an evenly occurring process. There is always some mixture of damaged and healthy hairs.
  • So when you hear a loud sound, the impaired hairs “recruit” the healthy hairs (hence the name of the condition) to send an alarmed message to your brain. So, all of a sudden, everything is really loud because all of your stereocilia are firing (just as they would with any other loud sound).

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

Sounds like hyperacusis

You might think that these symptoms sound a little familiar. That’s likely because they’re frequently confused with a condition known as hyperacusis. That confusion is, initially, reasonable. Auditory recruitment is a condition in which you have a sensitivity to loud sounds, and hyperacusis is a condition in which sounds very abruptly get loud.

But there are some key differences:

  • Hyperacusis is not directly related to hearing loss. Auditory recruitment absolutely is.
  • Noises that are normal objectively will seem really loud for someone who has hyperacusis. Think about it like this: When you’re experiencing auditory recruitment, a shout sounds like a shout; but a whisper could sound like a shout with hyperacusis.
  • Hyperacusis is painful. Literally. Feeling pain is common for people who have hyperacusis. That’s not necessarily 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?

Here’s the bad news, there’s no cure for hearing loss. Once your hearing goes, it’s gone. Managing hearing loss early will go a long way to protect against this.

This also applies to auditory recruitment. Fortunately, there are ways to successfully address auditory recruitment. Usually, hearing aids are at the center of that treatment. And those hearing aids have to be specially calibrated. 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 a really effective treatment.

Only specific types of hearing aid will be successful. Over-the-counter hearing aids or sound amplifiers, for instance, do not have the required technological sophistication and built-in sensitivity, so they will not be able to address your symptoms.

Call us for an appointment

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

But it all starts by scheduling 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.

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.