We live in a noisy world, and sensitivity to loud sounds can be a common problem. For some, loud sounds hurt more than others — significantly reducing one’s quality of life. Everyday activities such as walking down a street, going to the movies, and dining at restaurants came become intolerable when someone’s noise sensitivity is too high. If this causes discomfort or pain, it may be hyperacusis.
Hyperacusis is a disorder of loudness perception and affects an estimated one in 50,000 people. Loudness perception is the recognition of sound that is correlated to the physical characteristic of its intensity. When you hear a sound, your brain can exaggerate the intensity of that sound. This hypersensitivity to noise can make sounds appear to be louder than what they actually are. Often, the most troubling sounds tend to be sudden, high-pitched noises. Those with hyperacusis are shown to be extra sensitive to loud noises that include high pitched squeals, such as brakes on a car, or the sound of a microwave opening. Additionally, many patients with hyperacusis also experience inner ear pain or a feeling of fullness (pressure) in the ears.
Richard Tyler, PhD. Describes four categories of hyperacusis:
Other types of noise sensitivity include recruitment, hypersensitive hearing of specific frequencies and misophonia. Auditory recruitment is an unusually rapid growth of sound loudness and reflects hair cell dysfunction. Misophonia is described as a severe sensitivity to specific soft sounds with an associated emotional reaction.
Generally speaking, hyperacusis does not develop on its own. It can be caused by a number of diseases or health issues. The following have been known to lead to hyperacusis: changes in hearing due to aging, traumatic exposure to a loud noise, certain medications, medical procedures, depression, head trauma, and TMJ. Lyme disease, Meniere’s disease, Tay-Sachs disease, and Autism also take part in causing hyperacusis.
A normal ear is designed to minimize the harmful effects of loud noise. For those with hyperacusis or noise sensitivity, these systems are malfunctioning.
When an individual’s noise sensitivity is higher than an average person, it can lead to anxiety and depression. Noise sensitivity anxiety can cause a person to avoid experiences that they used to enjoy. For example, they may stop attending live performances, recitals, and concerts simply to avoid the pain induced by the loud applause. Even the performance itself can be excruciating. Eventually, this can lead to a fear of noise. They will make sure they no longer attend social events because they fear the harmful sounds that come with them. This fear driven anxiety is known as Phonophobia, or more commonly known as a fear of loud sounds.
Unfortunately, there is generally no solution when it comes to hyperacusis because the damage has already occurred. However, there are options you can take advantage of to avoid making your hypersensitive hearing worse or to help ease the pain you may be experiencing. The following are suggested:
If noise sensitivity is preventing you from living your life to the fullest, speak to an Audiologist today. There are several solutions that can be implemented to help ease the pain and discomfort of hyperacusis, and better your quality of life.