People with hearing loss often struggle to detect low-level sounds like those that are present during normal conversations. However, this doesn’t mean they can’t be startled by loud noises, and in some cases perceive those loud noises as even more bothersome and intense as they did before experiencing hearing loss.
While that might sound odd, it describes an incredibly common phenomenon known as recruitment or auditory distortion. So even if you struggle to hear your granddaughter talking to you across the kitchen table, you might still startle or cover your ears when music at The Hollywood Bowl gets loud.
Recruitment or Hyperacusis?
Hyperacusis is another phenomenon that produces discomfort or heightened sensitivity to loud noises, however, there are several key differences between this condition and recruitment. The most important distinction is that people suffering from hyperacusis experience loud noises as painful, as opposed to just startling. People without hearing loss can also experience hyperacusis, whereas recruitment is only seen in people with hearing loss.
Why Does Recruitment Happen?
Hearing loss happens when the fragile hair cells in our inner ear begin to degrade. This is most commonly due to age, but other factors like injury or exposure to loud noises can be factors as well. However, not all hair cells start to degrade at the same time. Even though some hair cells are degraded enough to cause hearing loss others stay functional and can detect sound waves. Once sounds reach a loud enough volume, the healthy cells are “recruited” in place of the dying hair cells and can respond quickly and strongly to the sound. This intense response is startling and uncomfortable for those who experience it.
If you are experiencing recruitment the best thing you can do is make an appointment with an audiologist as soon as possible to discuss your symptoms. Whether you are new to hearing aids or are having recruitment issues with your current pair, your audiologist can work with you find the right pair and/or may be able to adjust the settings to compress sounds in the specific range that bothers you.
Remember that recruitment and hearing loss are frustrating issues to deal with, but with the right care and hearing specialist, they can be treated, improving your symptoms, your health, and your enjoyment of life.
For more information about hearing loss or to schedule an appointment with an audiologist, call The House Institute Hearing Health Centers today.