Stephenville, TX

Abilene, Stephenville and Brownwood, TX

Can Hearing Loss Make You Sensitive to Loud Sounds?

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

You know that it can be difficult to get your partner’s attention if they have untreated hearing loss. First, you try to use their name. You say “Greg”, but you get no response because you used an indoor volume level. You try saying Greg’s name a little louder and still no reply. So you resort to shouting.

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

This situation isn’t the result of stubbornness or impatience. Individuals with hearing loss often report hypersensitivity to loud sound. So it makes sense that Greg gets cranky when you shout his name after he continually fails to hear you when you speak to him at a normal volume.

Can hearing loss make loud sounds even worse?

So, hearing loss is kind of peculiar. The majority of time, you’ll hear less and less, particularly if your hearing loss remains untreated. But every now and then, 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. Uncomfortably loud. Maybe the movie suddenly gets really loud or someone 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 will feel like they’re going mad when they experience this. They have a difficult time determining how loud things are. Imagine, all of your friends, family, 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. It works like this:

  • There are little hairs, called stereocilia, that cover the inside of your ear. When soundwaves enter into 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 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 process doesn’t happen evenly. There is always some mixture of damaged and healthy hairs.
  • So when the impaired hairs are exposed to a loud sound, the healthy hairs are “recruited” (hence the condition’s name) to send a signal of alarm to your brain. All of a sudden, all of the stereocilia fire, and everything becomes very loud.

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.

Isn’t that the same as hyperacusis?

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

But there are some key differences:

  • While hyperacusis has no link to hearing loss, there is a direct link between auditory recruitment and hearing loss.
  • When you’re dealing with hyperacusis, noises that are at an objectively ordinary volume seem really loud to you. Think about it like this: A shout will still sound like a shout with auditory recruitment; but a whisper could sound like a shout with hyperacusis.
  • Hyperacusis comes with pain. Literally. Feeling pain is common for individuals with hyperacusis. With auditory recruitment, that’s typically not the case.

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

Is there any treatment for audio recruitment?

Here’s the bad news, there’s no cure for hearing loss. Your hearing will never come back once it’s gone. Addressing hearing loss early will go a long way to prevent this.

This also is true for auditory recruitment. But here’s the good news, auditory recruitment can successfully be treated. In most situations, that treatment will involve hearing aids. And those hearing aids have to be specifically calibrated. That’s why treating auditory recruitment will nearly always require making an appointment with us.

We’ll be able to identify the particular wavelengths of sound that are causing your auditory recruitment symptoms. Then your hearing aids will be dialed in to lower the volume of those frequencies. It’s sort of like magic, only it’s using science and technology (so, not really like magic at all, but it works really well is what we’re trying to communicate here).

Successful treatment will only be accomplished with certain types of hearing aids. 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 get relief from your sensitivity to loud noise. You will also get the extra benefit of using a hearing aid to improve your life’s soundscape.

But it all starts by scheduling an appointment. This hypersensitivity is a natural part of the hearing loss process, it happens to many, many people.

It doesn’t need to keep making you miserable.

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? Talk To Us.