Have you heard someone ask this question? Have you asked it yourself? It is a question I hear frequently from persons in my office. The answer is not simple nor is it the same for everyone. There is one important factor, though, that remains poorly understood.
A short anatomy lesson
Our inner ear, or cochlea, has thousands of cellular components called hair cells. These cells act as biological amplifiers when the sound arriving at our ear is soft. That is, they pump up and down at the same frequency as the sound entering our ear making it more intense. This allows us to hear very soft sounds.
These same cochlear cells which amplify soft sounds can also contract and dampen the loud sounds which enter our ear. This prevents the ear from being over driven and this, in turn, prevents distortion.
So what happens if these cells are gradually damaged so that they no longer work properly? The simple answer is that we have hearing loss. We are not able to hear soft sounds as well as we once did because these cells are not able to perform their amplification function. But paradoxically, we may also be more disturbed by loud sound. The hair cells are not able to damp, or attenuate, loud sounds.