Can Hearing Loss Make You Sensitive to Loud Sounds?

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

If you have a partner with neglected hearing loss, you know that getting their attention can be… a challenge. 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 you resort to shouting.

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

It’s not just stubbornness and impatience that cause this situation. Hypersensitivity to loud sound is frequently reported in those with hearing loss. So it makes sense that Greg gets aggravated when you shout his name after he repeatedly fails to hear you when you talk to him at a normal volume.

Can hearing loss make loud sounds even worse?

Hearing loss can be a peculiar thing. Normally, hearing loss will cause your hearing to decline, particularly if it goes untreated. But every now and then, you’ll watch a Michael Bay movie, or be talking with someone, or be having dinner in a restaurant, and things will get really noisy. Uncomfortably loud. Maybe the movie suddenly gets really loud or somebody is shouting to get your attention.

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

Which can also make you feel a little cranky, honestly. Many people will feel like they’re going crazy when they notice this. They have a hard time figuring out how loud things are. Imagine, all of your family, friends, and acquaintances seem to validate you’re losing your hearing, but you have this sudden sensitivity to loud sound. How can that be?

Auditory recruitment

A condition called auditory recruitment can cause these symptoms. Here’s how it works:

  • The inside of your ears are covered with tiny hairs known as stereocilia. When soundwaves enter into your ears, these hairs resonate and your brain translates that signal into sounds.
  • Age-related “sensorineural” hearing loss happens as these hairs deteriorate. Over time, these fragile hairs are permanently damaged by repeated exposure to loud sounds. Your hearing becomes duller as a result. The more damaged hairs you have, the less you can hear.
  • But this is not an evenly occurring process. There will be a combination of healthy and damaged hairs.
  • So when you hear a loud sound, the damaged hairs “recruit” the healthy hairs (thus the name of the condition) to send an alarmed message to your brain. So, suddenly, everything is very loud because all of your stereocilia are firing (just like they would with any other loud noise).

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 otherwise would!

Sounds a lot like hyperacusis

You might think that these symptoms sound a little familiar. There is a condition called hyperacusis that has comparable symptoms and the two are frequently confused. When you first compare them, this confusion is easy to understand. Auditory recruitment is a condition where you have a sensitivity to loud noises, and hyperacusis is a condition where sounds very abruptly get loud.

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 have 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 when you have hyperacusis, a whisper might sound like a shout.
  • Hyperacusis causes pain. Literally. Feeling pain is common for individuals who have hyperacusis. With auditory recruitment, that’s normally not the case.

At the end of the day, auditory recruitment and hyperacusis have some superficially similar symptoms. But they are very different conditions.

Can auditory recruitment be managed?

The bad news is that there’s no cure for hearing loss. Your hearing will never come back once it’s gone. Treating hearing loss early will go a long way to prevent this.

The same is true of auditory recruitment. Luckily, there are ways to successfully treat auditory recruitment. Typically, hearing aids are at the center of that treatment. And those hearing aids need to be specially calibrated. So it will be necessary to schedule an appointment with us.

We’ll be able to identify the particular wavelengths of sound that are responsible for your auditory recruitment symptoms. Then your hearing aids will be dialed in to decrease the volume of those wavelengths. It’s a really effective treatment.

Only certain types of hearing aid will be successful. The symptoms can’t be managed with over-the-counter hearing devices because they lack the technological sophistication.

Reach out to us for an appointment

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

But making an appointment is the first step. This hypersensitivity is a normal part of the hearing loss process, it happens to many, many people.

You can get help so call us.

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.

Questions?

    Parkside Audiology

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    Tampa, FL 33629

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