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 a challenge to get your partner’s attention if they have neglected hearing loss. Their name is the first thing you try saying. “Greg”, you say, but you used a standard, inside volume level, so you get nothing. You try saying Greg’s name a little louder and still nothing. So finally, you shout.

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

This situation isn’t due to stubbornness or irritability. Individuals with hearing loss frequently report hypersensitivity to loud sound. And this sensitivity to loud noises can help illustrate why Greg doesn’t hear his name at a normal volume but gets cranky when you shout at him.

Can loud sounds seem louder with hearing loss?

Hearing loss can be a strange thing. The vast majority of time, you’ll hear less and less, particularly if your hearing loss goes untreated. But things can get really loud when you’re out at a crowded restaurant or watching a Michael Bay movie. 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 think: What’s causing this sensitivity to loud noise?

Which can, truthfully, put you in a cranky mood. Many individuals who notice this will feel like they’re going crazy. They have a hard time determining how loud things are. 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. How can that be?

Auditory recruitment

A condition known as auditory recruitment can trigger these symptoms. this is how it works:

  • The interior of your ears are covered in 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 are damaged. Over time, these fragile hairs are permanently damaged by repeated exposure to loud sounds. As a result, your hearing becomes less sensitive. Your level of hearing loss will be increasingly worse the more hairs that are compromised.
  • But this process doesn’t take place evenly. There will be a combination of healthy and damaged hairs.
  • So when you hear a loud sound, the damaged hairs “recruit” the healthy hairs (hence the name of the condition) to send a warning message to your brain. So, all of a sudden, everything gets really loud because all of your stereocilia are firing (just as they would with any other loud sound).

Think about it like this: That Michael Bay explosion is loud while everything else is quiet. So the Michael Bay explosion is going to seem louder (and more obnoxious) than it otherwise would!

Sounds a lot like hyperacusis

Those symptoms might 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 understandable. Auditory recruitment is a condition in which you have a sensitivity to loud sounds, and hyperacusis is a condition in which sounds very abruptly get loud.

But there are some key differences:

  • Hyperacusis is not directly related to hearing loss. Auditory recruitment absolutely is.
  • When you’re dealing with hyperacusis, noises that are at an objectively ordinary volume seem very loud to you. Think about it like this: 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 usually not the situation.

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?

The bad news is that there’s no cure for hearing loss. Your hearing will never return once it’s gone. Managing hearing loss early will go a long way to protect against this.

The same goes for auditory recruitment. But the good news is that auditory recruitment can successfully be treated. Typically, hearing aids are part of that treatment. And there’s a specific calibration for those hearing aids. That’s why addressing auditory recruitment will almost always require scheduling 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 lower 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.

Make an appointment with us

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

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

    Theos Audiology Solutions, LLC

    Peru, IL

    2200 Marquette Rd. Ste. 115Peru, IL 61354

    Call or Text: 815-374-7954

    Mon - Thurs: 9am - 4pm
    Fri: 9am - 3pm

    Galesburg, IL

    360 E. Losey St. Galesburg, IL 61401

    Call or Text: 309-315-3506

    Mon - Thurs: 8am - 4pm
    Fri: by appointment only


    Find out how we can help!

    Call or Text Us