One way your body provides information to you is through pain response. It’s an effective method though not a very enjoyable one. When your ears begin to feel the pain of a really loud megaphone near you, you know damage is taking place and you can take steps to move further away or at least cover your ears.
But for around 8-10% of individuals, quiet sounds can be perceived as painfully loud, in spite of their measured decibel level. This condition is referred to by experts as hyperacusis. It’s a medical term for overly sensitive ears. There’s no cure for hyperacusis, but there are treatments that can help you get a handle on your symptoms.
Increased sensitivity to sound
Hyperacusis is a hypersensitivity to sound. The majority of people with hyperacusis have episodes that are activated by a certain group of sounds (typically sounds within a range of frequencies). Quiet noises will often sound extremely loud. And loud noises sound even louder.
No one’s really sure what causes hyperacusis, although it’s often associated with tinnitus or other hearing issues (and, in some situations, neurological issues). There’s a significant degree of individual variability when it comes to the symptoms, severity, and treatment of hyperacusis.
What type of response is typical for hyperacusis?
Here’s how hyperacusis, in most situations, will look and feel::
- You will notice a specific sound, a sound that everybody else perceives as quiet, and that sound will sound very loud to you.
- After you hear the initial sound, you could have pain and hear buzzing for days or even weeks.
- You might also have dizziness and difficulty keeping your balance.
- Your response and discomfort will be worse the louder the sound is.
Treatments for hyperacusis
When you have hyperacusis the world can be a minefield, particularly when your ears are overly sensitive to a wide variety of frequencies. You never know when a pleasant night out will suddenly become an audio onslaught that will leave you with ringing ears and a three-day migraine.
That’s why treatment is so important. There are various treatments available depending on your particular situation and we can help you choose one that’s best for you. Here are some of the most common options:
A device called a masking device is one of the most common treatments for hyperacusis. This is technology that can cancel out specific wavelengths. These devices, then, are able to selectively hide those triggering wavelengths of sound before they ever get to your ear. If you can’t hear the triggering sound, you won’t have a hyperacusis attack.
A less sophisticated strategy to this general method is earplugs: if all sound is blocked, there’s no possibility of a hyperacusis episode. There are definitely some drawbacks to this low tech approach. Your general hearing issues, including hyperacusis, may get worse by using this approach, according to some evidence. Consult us if you’re considering wearing earplugs.
An strategy, known as ear retraining therapy, is one of the most thorough hyperacusis treatments. You’ll use a mix of devices, physical therapy, and emotional therapy to try to change the way you respond to certain kinds of sounds. Training yourself to dismiss sounds is the basic idea. Normally, this approach has a good success rate but depends heavily on your commitment to the process.
Less common strategies
Less prevalent methods, like ear tubes or medication, are also used to manage hyperacusis. These approaches are less commonly utilized, depending on the specialist and the individual, because they have met with mixed success.
Treatment makes a big difference
Because hyperacusis has a tendency to differ from person to person, a specialized treatment plan can be developed depending on your symptoms as you encounter them. Effectively treating hyperacusis depends on finding an approach that’s best for you.