Can Sensitivity to Loud Sound be a Symptom of Hearing Loss?

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 inside volume level. 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 appreciation of his comedic timing and says grouchily, “why are you shouting?”

It’s not just stubbornness and irritability that cause this interaction. People with hearing loss often report hypersensitivity to loud sound. So it seems logical that Greg gets cranky when you shout his name after he repeatedly fails to hear you when you talk to him at a normal volume.

Can loud sounds seem louder with hearing loss?

So, hearing loss can be sort of curious. The vast majority of time, you’ll hear less and less, especially if your hearing loss remains unaddressed. But things can get really loud when you’re out at a crowded 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 wonder why you’re so sensitive to loud noise.

Which can also make you feel a little cranky, honestly. Many people who notice this will feel like they’re going crazy. That’s because they can’t get a handle on 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 known as auditory recruitment. 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 converts that signal into sounds.
  • Deterioration of these hairs is what produces age-related sensorineural hearing loss. Loud sounds can degrade the hairs over time, and once they are damaged, they never heal. Your hearing becomes duller as a result. Your degree of hearing loss will be increasingly more severe the more hairs that are damaged.
  • But this is not an evenly occurring process. There will be a mixture 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, all of a sudden, everything gets very loud because all of your stereocilia are firing (just like they would with any other loud noise).

Think about it like this: 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.

Isn’t that the same as hyperacusis?

Those symptoms might sound a little familiar. There is a condition known as hyperacusis that has similar symptoms and the two are frequently confused. That confusion is, initially, reasonable. Both conditions can make sounds very loud all of a sudden.

But here are a few substantial differences:

  • Hyperacusis isn’t directly related to hearing loss. Auditory recruitment certainly is.
  • When you’re dealing with hyperacusis, noises that are at an objectively ordinary volume seem extremely loud to you. Think about it like this: When you have auditory recruitment, a shout sounds like a shout; but a whisper can sound like a shout for those who have hyperacusis.
  • Hyperacusis causes pain. Literally. Most individuals who experience hyperacusis report feeling pain. That’s not necessarily the case with auditory recruitment.

It’s true that hyperacusis and auditory recruitment have some similar symptoms. But they are not the same condition.

Can auditory recruitment be treated?

The bad news is that there’s no cure for hearing loss. Your hearing will never return once it goes. Treatment of hearing loss can prevent this, largely.

The same goes for auditory recruitment. Fortunately, there are ways to successfully address auditory recruitment. In most situations, that treatment will include hearing aids. And there’s a specific calibration for those hearing aids. That’s why treating auditory recruitment will nearly always require scheduling an appointment with us.

We’ll be able to determine the specific wavelengths of sound that are responsible for your auditory recruitment symptoms. Then your hearing aids will be dialed in to reduce the volume of those frequencies. It’s sort 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 work with certain types of hearing aids. The symptoms can’t be managed with over-the-counter hearing devices because they lack the technological sophistication.

Make an appointment with us

If you are suffering from sensitivity to loud sounds, it’s important to realize that you can get relief. The bonus is that your new hearing aid will make everything sound clearer.

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

It doesn’t have 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.

Questions?

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