One way your body delivers information to you is through pain response. It’s not a very enjoyable approach but it can be beneficial. When your ears begin to feel the pain of a really loud megaphone near you, you know damage is occurring and you can take steps to move further away or at least cover your ears.
But for about 8-10% of people, quiet sounds can be detected as painfully loud, in spite of their measured decibel level. This condition is referred to by experts as hyperacusis. It’s a fancy name for overly sensitive ears. The symptoms of hyperacusis can be managed but there’s no cure.
Heightened sound sensitivity
Hyperacusis is a hypersensitivity to sound. Most of the time sounds in a distinct frequency trigger episodes of hyperacusis for individuals who suffer from it. Quiet noises will often sound very loud. And noises that are loud sound a lot louder than they actually are.
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). When it comes to symptoms, intensity, and treatment, there’s a significant degree of personal variability.
What type of response is normal for hyperacusis?
In most cases, hyperacusis will look and feel something like this:
- You will hear a particular sound, a sound that everyone else perceives as quiet, and that sound will seem exceptionally loud to you.
- After you hear the initial sound, you could experience pain and hear buzzing for days or even weeks.
- You may also have dizziness and trouble keeping your balance.
- The louder the sound is, the more intense your response and discomfort will be.
Hyperacusis treatment treatment
When you have hyperacusis the world can be a minefield, particularly when your ears are very sensitive to a wide range of frequencies. Your hearing could be assaulted and you could be left with an awful headache and ringing ears whenever you go out.
That’s why it’s so important to get treatment. There are a variety of treatments available depending on your specific 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 certain wavelengths. These devices, then, can selectively mask those triggering wavelengths of sound before they ever reach your ear. You can’t have a hyperacusis episode if you can’t hear the triggering sound!
Earplugs are a less sophisticated play on the same basic approach: you can’t have a hyperacusis event if you can’t hear… well, anything. It’s undoubtedly a low-tech strategy, and there are some disadvantages. Your general hearing issues, including hyperacusis, could worsen by using this strategy, according to some evidence. If you’re thinking about using earplugs, give us a call for a consultation.
One of the most comprehensive approaches to managing hyperacusis is called ear retraining therapy. You’ll use a mix of devices, physical therapy, and emotional counseling to try to change the way you respond to particular types of sounds. The idea is that you can train yourself to disregard sounds (kind of like with tinnitus). This strategy depends on your commitment but generally has a positive success rate.
Approaches that are less prevalent
Less common strategies, like ear tubes or medication, are also used to treat hyperacusis. Both of these strategies have met with only mixed results, so they aren’t as commonly used (it’ll depend on the individual and the specialist).
Treatment makes a big difference
Depending on how you experience your symptoms, which vary from person to person, a unique treatment plan can be developed. There’s no one best approach to managing hyperacusis, it really depends on finding the best treatment for you.