Heightened sensitivity to particular sounds? Learn about Hyperacusis
Hyperacusis is a condition where common sounds are uncomfortably loud, to the point that you can’t cope with everyday noises, and try to isolate yourself from the noise.
Although not all that common, hyperacusis is something that can occur if you suffer from tinnitus or have been exposed to sudden impact noise, or an extended period of hazardously loud noise.
This doesn’t mean that you have better than normal hearing, in fact people with hearing loss can also be affected by this debilitating condition. Usually, however, a sufferer of hyperacusis has normal hearing and finds simple sounds like closing doors, flushing toilets or even conversations with more than one or two people, distressing loud. You may not be able to tolerate your partner’s voice – in fact every noise in your environment may be painful.
It can even manifest itself as physical pain, or a feeling of pressure, in your ears. Apart from loud damaging noise - head injuries, some diseases, ototoxic medications and migraines - have been known to cause of hyperacusis. Children with cerebral palsy or autism can also experience hyperacusis
If the hyperacusis occurs in the cochlea, (cochlear hyperacusis) you will experience an abnormal intolerance to everyday sounds. If you have vestibular hyperacusis, your intolerance will be accompanied by dizziness, balance problems and nausea when exposed to annoying sounds.
Both types of hyperacusis can lead to a fear of normal sounds (known as phonophobia). The sufferer may also experience anxiety, social isolation and depression. Much like untreated hearing loss, hyperacusis can lead to a person withdrawing from interactions with friends and family, as their hyperacusis doesn’t allow normal conversations and connections with people.
The reason as to why the ear can’t cope with everyday sounds isn’t exactly understood, however one theory suggests the ear’s protective mechanism may be malfunctioning, causing an extreme sensitivity to all levels of sound. Whatever the reason for hyperacusis, it’s a condition that needs to be addressed.
Is there treatment for hyperacusis?
Although it’s not a common condition, a person with hyperacusis will need help assistance. Initially a person with hyperacusis may want to protect themselves from the sounds that are distressing them by wearing ear muffs or plugs, and while this is of immediate assistance, it isn’t recommended.
Sound avoidance can sometimes make the person with hyperacusis more sensitive to sound.
One of the more popular forms of treatment is Sound Therapy, which can help retrain the brain to become accustomed to everyday sounds again, reducing the stress of hyperacusis. The treatment is carried out over a number of months where the sufferer is fitted with a hearing device known as a noise-generator and also participates in counselling sessions with a trained professional. Another well-known treatment for hyperacusis is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.
Again, under the care of a professional, the hyperacusis sufferer learns to deal with their negative thoughts around the hyperacusis and reduce their fears and reactions to sound – giving them more control over the condition.
If you, or someone you know, is suffering from an oversensitivity to sound, a consultation with an audiologist is advised. Help is available. The hyperacusis sufferer can gain skills to equip the brain with coping mechanisms and eventually, over time, desensitise to the perceived loudness of everyday sounds.