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

HEARING TIPS

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

If you have a partner with neglected hearing loss, you realize that getting their attention can be… a problem. 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 no reply. So you resort to shouting.

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

This interaction isn’t the result of stubbornness or irritability. Hypersensitivity to loud sound is often reported in those who have hearing loss. So it makes sense that Greg gets aggravated when you shout his name after he repeatedly fails to hear you when you speak to him at a normal volume.

Can hearing loss make loud sounds worse?

So, hearing loss can be sort of peculiar. Usually, hearing loss will cause your hearing to decline, particularly if it goes untreated. But every once in a while, you’ll watch a Michael Bay movie, or be having a conversation, or be having dinner in a restaurant, and things will get really noisy. So loud that it can become uncomfortable. Maybe it’s someone yelling to get your attention or one of the explosions in the latest Transformers movie, it just gets really loud really fast.

And you’ll wonder why you’re so sensitive to loud noise.

Which can, honestly, put you in an irritable mood. Many people who notice this will feel like they’re going crazy. That’s because they can’t get a handle on how loud anything is. You have a sudden sensitivity to loud sounds even as your family and friends are pointing out your very obvious hearing loss symptoms. How is that possible?

Auditory recruitment

A condition called auditory recruitment can trigger these symptoms. It works like this:

  • There are tiny hairs, known as stereocilia, covering your inner ear. These hairs vibrate when soundwaves enter your ears and this vibration is then translated to sounds by your brain.
  • Deterioration of these hairs is what brings about age-related sensorineural hearing loss. Over time, these delicate hairs are permanently damaged by repeated exposure to loud sounds. Consequently, your hearing becomes less sensitive. The more damaged hairs you have, the less you can hear.
  • But this process doesn’t occur evenly. There will be a combination of healthy and damaged hairs.
  • So when the impaired hairs are exposed to a loud noise, the healthy hairs are “recruited” (thus the condition’s name) to send a message of alarm to your brain. All of a sudden, 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 will seem louder, when that Michael Bay explosion occurs, than it normally would.

Isn’t that exactly like hyperacusis?

Those symptoms may sound a little familiar. There is a condition called hyperacusis that has comparable symptoms and the two are often confused. That confusion is, initially, understandable. Auditory recruitment is a condition where you have a sensitivity to loud sounds, and hyperacusis is a condition in which sounds very suddenly get loud.

But there are some key differences:

  • Hyperacusis isn’t directly related to hearing loss. Auditory recruitment certainly is.
  • Noises that are normal objectively will seem very loud for someone who has hyperacusis. Think about it like this: A shout will still sound like a shout with auditory recruitment; but a whisper could sound like a shout for those who have hyperacusis.
  • Hyperacusis is painful. Literally. Most people who cope with hyperacusis report feelings of pain. That’s not necessarily the situation with auditory recruitment.

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

Is there any way to treat audio recruitment?

Here’s the bad news, there’s no cure for hearing loss. Your hearing will never return once it’s gone. Treatment of hearing loss can largely prevent this.

This also is true for auditory recruitment. Luckily, there are ways to effectively address auditory recruitment. Usually, hearing aids are part of that treatment. And those hearing aids have to be specifically calibrated. So it will be necessary to schedule an appointment with us.

We’ll be able to identify 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 wavelengths. It’s a really effective treatment.

Only certain types of hearing aid will be successful. Over-the-counter hearing aids or sound amplifiers, for instance, don’t have the required technological sophistication and built-in sensitivity, so they will not be able to deal with your symptoms.

Schedule an appointment with us

If you are experiencing sensitivity to loud noises, it’s important to realize that you can find relief. You will also get the additional benefit of using a hearing aid to improve your life’s soundscape.

But scheduling an appointment is the starting point. Many people who have hearing loss deal with hypersensitivity to loud sound.

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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