Pain is your body’s way of supplying information. It’s not a terribly enjoyable method but it can be effective. When that megaphone you’re standing next to goes too loud, the pain lets you know that significant ear damage is occurring and you immediately (if you’re wise) cover your ears or remove yourself from that rather loud environment.
But for about 8-10% of individuals, quiet sounds can be perceived as painfully loud, in spite of their measured decibel level. Hearing specialists refer to this condition as hyperacusis. This is the medical term for overly sensitive ears. The symptoms of hyperacusis can be managed but there’s no cure.
Elevated sensitivity to sound
Hyperacusis is a hypersensitivity to sound. Most people with hyperacusis have episodes that are triggered by a certain group of sounds (typically sounds within a range of frequencies). Quiet noises will frequently sound really loud. And noises that are loud seem a lot louder than they actually are.
Hyperacusis is commonly connected with tinnitus, hearing trouble, and even neurological issues, though no one really knows what actually causes it. There’s a significant degree of individual variability with the symptoms, intensity, and treatment of hyperacusis.
What type of response is typical for hyperacusis?
In most cases, hyperacusis will look and feel something like this:
- You might also have dizziness and problems keeping your balance.
- Everyone else will think a specific sound is quiet but it will sound very loud to you.
- The louder the sound is, the more intense your response and discomfort will be.
- After you hear the initial sound, you could have pain and hear buzzing for days or even weeks.
Hyperacusis treatment treatment
When you are dealing with hyperacusis the world can be a minefield, especially when your ears are extremely sensitive to a wide assortment of frequencies. You never know when a pleasant night out will suddenly turn into an audio onslaught that will leave you with ringing ears and an intense migraine.
That’s why treatment is so important. You’ll want to come in and speak with us about which treatments will be your best option (this all tends to be quite variable). Here are some of the most common options:
One of the most frequently used treatments for hyperacusis is something called a masking device. This is technology that can cancel out certain frequencies. So those unpleasant frequencies can be eliminated before they reach your ears. You can’t have a hyperacusis attack if you can’t hear the triggering sound!
Earplugs are a less state-of-the-art play on the same general approach: you can’t have a hyperacusis attack if you can’t hear… well, anything. There are certainly some drawbacks to this low tech method. Your general hearing issues, including hyperacusis, could worsen by using this strategy, according to some evidence. Consult us if you’re thinking about wearing earplugs.
One of the most comprehensive methods of managing hyperacusis is known as ear retraining therapy. You’ll use a mix of devices, physical therapy, and emotional counseling to try to change the way you react to certain kinds of sounds. The idea is that you can train yourself to dismiss sounds (rather like with tinnitus). Normally, this approach has a good rate of success but depends a great deal on your commitment to the process.
Less prevalent solutions
There are also some less common approaches for managing hyperacusis, such as medications or ear tubes. These strategies are less commonly utilized, depending on the specialist and the individual, because they have met with mixed success.
A big difference can come from treatment
Because hyperacusis has a tendency to vary from person to person, an individual treatment plan can be formulated depending on your symptoms as you encounter them. Effectively treating hyperacusis depends on determining an approach that’s best for you.