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The surprising thing about hearing loss and uncomfortably loud sounds

If you have a moderate to severe (or worse) hearing loss then chances are that as well as struggling to hear speech and other sounds you also struggle with sounds that are too loud for you. I know I sometimes do, doors shutting in our office seem loud to me, running water always sounds a bit too loud as well.

Many times over the years I’ve been in situations where I have had to turn my hearing aids down or move aware from a loud sound while everyone else around me didn’t seem in the slightest bit bothered by it. Turns out that this is a very common problem for those with hearing loss and especially those who wear hearing aids. We really do perceive many loud sounds to be louder than people with normal hearing do.

The reason we perceive some loud sounds to be louder than they really are is because of a thing called recruitment. I’m going to write a separate article about recruitment but basically it occurs as a result of a sensorineural hearing loss and it happens because our brains are trying to compensate for our damaged nerves by using some of the remaining good nerves as well.

The worse your hearing loss is the more likely you are going to suffer from recruitment. If you are having a lot of trouble with noise that is too loud and it’s effecting your ability to hear, or worse, stopping you from wearing your aids, you should speak to an audiologist as all modern hearing aids can be configured to help minimise the loud sounds.

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4 comments
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  1. Thanks for addressing this issue, Steve. I have found it hard to describe this experience. It’s difficult to understand that if you are hard of hearing and hear less than others that you can be bothered by noise that others barely notice.

  2. Hi Sarah,

    Thanks for the comment. Another thing I am very conscious of is how loud I am speaking, I’ve been told several times in the past that I’m shouting when I think I’m talking just loud enough to be heard above the noise – guess the noise I was shouting above wasn’t that noisy to the people I was speaking to!

  3. Wow, I thought I was going crazy. I’m half deaf and have unequal hearing my in left and right ears. I can hear the phone rigging, but can not tell where it’s at. I’m legally hearing impaired in the 4000 Hz range. 4000Hz is where some womens voices are at. Young girls especially. My nieces I simply can’t hear them. Electronic beepers like digital watches or LED kitchen timers.ect. I can hold them to my ear and still not be able to hear it. Now here is the kicker, (my response). Anything that squeaks or has a high pitched whine, is intolerable to me. Like the TV at my mom and dads house has this constant high pitched cry. Why I thought I was the crazy one, I’m the only one who can hear it. Yeah, the half deaf guy. To me it’s as loud as a smoke detector with nails on a chalk board. I can’t be in the room. Further more, shopping cart wheels, the garage door opener and some music videos on-line sound like someone is grinding up a cat. I have to go through several shopping carts at the supermarket to get a silent one. Otherwise, the sound to me is like getting teeth pulled. Oh and some automatic sliding doors will scare the #$%^ out of me and make me drop stuff. Thank you so much, I am not CRAZY. Eric, Sunnyvale, Ca.

  4. Although it’s very basic, and extremely generic, here’s an analogy which may help understanding of recruitment, hyperacusis, & the like.

    When you have a deep wound, such as a location where surgery was performed, or major damage was done (I have had knee surgery, so this applied in that way), there seems to always be some numbness in that area. Numbness, UNTIL you bump the area in some way (for me, bumping my knee). Bumping my knee can put me on the ground; the pain is so unbearable! You’d think I wouldn’t be able to feel it, after all, my knee is numb! But there it is, extreme pain!

    The auditory system works the same way, to an extent.. The nerves are damaged, so they react differently than normal nerves. Crazy, yeah? :-)

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