by Neil Bauman, Ph.D.
A lady wrote:
A few years ago I had a virus that apparently attacked my vestibular system. Besides various balance-related problems, I now have hearing issues. I was told that I had some hearing loss on the left (I don’t remember how much) but I also find that I am very sensitive to certain sounds and pitches (clapping, crowds, high pitches). Because of the hearing loss, my husband wants me to go to an ear specialist, but I feel that there is nothing they can do for me, and the sound sensitivity would be worse with any sort of hearing aid. I’m not sure whether to pursue these issues. If there is anything that can be done, and if I do peruse them, what sort or specialist I should see? Can you point me in the right direction?
You bet. I’ll tell you which specialist you should see in a moment, but first, I’d like to address some of the interesting points you bring up.
Viral attacks can indeed cause balance problems. In addition, they can cause hearing loss and distorted hearing. Sometimes the balance system is harder hit, and other times the virus mostly attacks the hearing system. In fact, viral attacks can result in massive hearing loss. Fortunately, your hearing loss isn’t as bad as that.
However, you have another problem besides just not hearing as well as formerly. You are now super-sensitive to various normal sounds that never bothered you before. This is a real pain–literally.
The fancy names for these kind of conditions are hyperacusis and recruitment. Recruitment accompanies hearing loss, whereas hyperacusis can occur whether you have a hearing loss or not.
In any case, the result is basically the same no matter which one you have–certain normal sounds now sound much too loud. If you want to learn more about recruitment see my article “Recruitment Explained.” In addition, you might want to read a short book called “Supersensitive to Sound? You May Have Hyperacusis.”
Recruitment is no fun. I know. I have severe recruitment myself. Just putting a glass on the table can blow the top of my head off (figuratively speaking of course) as it sounds so loud to me.
The hearing specialist you want to go to is an audiologist (Au.D)–not a medical doctor (M.D.) Your audiologist will do a complete audiological evaluation and can recommend (and fit) hearing aids if they are appropriate.
The surprising thing is that hearing aids (properly adjusted) can actually help your sound sensitivity–assuming you have recruitment associated with your hearing loss. Your audiologist can set your new hearing aids to “compress” the recruiting sounds so they no longer bother you.
For example, I just got new hearing aids in the last month or so, and for the first time in 50 years of wearing hearing aids I can now stand certain sounds that always were too loud before. I’m still working on “tweaking” them to cut out all recruiting sounds. So far, I’ve eliminated about 90% of the formerly troublesome sounds. You may find the same thing happens with you with the right hearing aids. The latest technology is amazing.
At the very least, you should investigate whether this will work for you too. I think its well worth a trip to an audiologist.