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 untreated hearing loss, you know that getting their attention can be… a problem. First, you try to use their name. 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.

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

This interaction isn’t the result of stubbornness or impatience. People with hearing loss frequently report hypersensitivity to loud sound. So it seems logical 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 loud sounds seem louder with hearing loss?

So, hearing loss can be kind of peculiar. Usually, hearing loss will cause your hearing to diminish, particularly if it goes untreated. But every now and then, you’ll watch a Michael Bay movie, or be having a conversation, or be eating in a restaurant, and things will get really noisy. So loud that it can become uncomfortable. Maybe the movie suddenly gets really loud or somebody 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 bit cranky, honestly. Many people who experience this will feel like they’re going crazy. That’s because they can’t get a handle on how loud anything is. Imagine, all of your family, friends, and acquaintances seem to validate you’re losing your ability to hear, but you have this sudden sensitivity to loud sound. It feels like a contradiction.

Auditory recruitment

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

  • There are little 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.
  • Age-related “sensorineural” hearing loss takes place as these hairs deteriorate. Over time, these little hairs are permanently damaged by frequent 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 occur evenly. There will be a combination of healthy and damaged 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. 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 like this: everything is silent except for the Michael Bay explosion. 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. There is a condition known as hyperacusis that has similar symptoms and the two are often confused. At first glance, this confusion is understandable. Auditory recruitment is a condition where you have a sensitivity to loud sounds, and hyperacusis is a condition where sounds very suddenly get loud.

But there are a few key differences:

  • While hyperacusis has no connection 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 normal volume seem very 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 with hyperacusis.
  • Hyperacusis causes pain. Literally. Feeling pain is common for people with hyperacusis. That’s not always the situation with auditory recruitment.

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

Is there any way to treat audio recruitment?

There’s no cure for hearing loss and that’s the bad news. Once your hearing is gone, it’s gone. Treatment of hearing loss can largely prevent this.

This also is true for 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 need to be specifically calibrated. That’s why addressing auditory recruitment will nearly always require scheduling an appointment with us.

We’ll be able to determine the specific wavelengths of sound that are causing your auditory recruitment symptoms. Then your hearing aids will be dialed in to decrease the volume of those wavelengths. It’s a very effective treatment.

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

Contact us for an appointment

It’s essential that you know 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 scheduling an appointment is the starting point. Many people who have hearing loss cope with hypersensitivity to loud sound.

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? Talk To Us.





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