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Abnormal sensitivity to sound and disorders in loudness perception is defined as Hyperacusis. It is a condition that comes from a problem in the way noise is perceived by the human brain, that is, the central auditory processing center of the brain. It can often lead to pain and discomfort.

“Between 2 and 8% of the world’s population is said to have this condition. More specifically it affects one in 50,000 people.”

It is important to distinguish people sensible to sound and people experiencing real Hyperacusis.

People with Hyperacusis define it as broken tolerance to otherwise normal sounds. These sounds become painful and extremely loud. It is not a condition in which loud noises become unbearable, but rather the condition in which pretty much all common noises can no longer be tolerated.

Pain in the ear and the feeling of pressure is also accompanied by this problem. A person suffering from this condition can easily develop a bigger problem and have difficulties at work, home, and social communication.

Categories of Hyperacusis

  1. Loudness
  2. Fear
  3. Pain
  4. Annoyance

Hyperacusis Causes

The most common cause of Hyperacusis is from damages to the cochlea when a person is exposed to loud noises at work, music concerts, fireworks, gun shootings, and the improper functions of airbags.

Other notable causes which can lead to Hyperacusis are:

Usually, people first acquire hyperacusis in just one ear, but consequently, both ears get affected sooner or later.

The speed of this disease varies from person to person, leading to the conclusion that some get it quickly and suddenly, while others develop it more slowly.

Lifestyle Changes

It becomes extremely difficult for a person to live in a world where all noises are too loud. Everyday situations are stressful and a person may become asocial due to these circumstances.

“It is recommended for people with this problem to start wearing earplugs and similar devices in all environments that seem to be dangerous.”

Certain activities or hobbies like singing, dancing or sports represent a great danger and must, therefore, be eliminated forever. Even ear protection in these cases becomes insufficient, thus forcing people to say goodbye to certain interests forever.

Normal everyday activities, that most people take for granted, become unbearable and very challenging. Phone conversations, watching television, listening to the radio, driving a car, traffic jams, walking through crowded streets, having lunch in restaurants, going out to a café or a bar, participating in group activities, cleaning the house, and many more represent a major obstacle to people suffering from Hyperacusis.

In some cases, because of loud noises at work, people are forced to find new jobs or claim disability with the help and diagnosis of a specialist.

The reason is that loud noises at work may worsen the state of the problem by worsening the tinnitus a person almost always has combined with hyperacusis.

The tinnitus may size up in value or there may also be some problems to the inner ear if the problem is not treated properly.

This diagnosis may go so deep in severity, that some people even report problems listening to their own voice and therefore changing it to an acceptable level of intensity.

Hyperacusis Diagnosis

If a person suspects the possibility of having hyperacusis an evaluation and analysis by a doctor specialist is highly recommended.

“A specialist for ear, nose and throat is called an otolaryngologist, but an otologist or a neurotologist is also a specialist in this area.”

The first examination will most probably be an audiological test which includes a hearing testing, a physical evaluation, and a medical history checkup.

Medical history questions are mostly about the beginning of the symptoms and their severity, but migraines may also be questioned.

People that are suffering from migraines often have small white matter lesions that can be seen on Magnetic Resonance Imaging. In addition to hyperacusis, it is common for people suffering from migraines too often have:

  • Photophobia (fear of light sources)
  • Motion intolerance
  • Strong smell sensitivity
  • Allodynia (unusual cutaneous sensitivity)

Treating migraines is completely different than the treatment for other types of hyperacusis.

A hearing test includes an audiogram which is a graph that shows a persons’ hearing possibilities at different frequencies. An important thing to note is that people suffering from hyperacusis mostly do not show results of normal hearing losses that can be seen on the audiogram.

A doctor may also advise and talk with the patient about the results shortly.

Doctor in white matle with his hands crossed looking at the camera

Source: Unsplash

Hyperacusis Treatment

Hyperacusis can be treated in various ways. Medication, surgery, hearing devices, and also therapy.

1. Medications

Are used for treatment, but specialists and scientists are not very impressed with the results. Additionally, medications can cause some side effects as well. On the other side, medications used to cure depression and anxiety caused by hyperacusis are considered a better solution.

2. Devices

Devices mostly used for healing and helping bad hearing are earplugs and sound generators.

3. Sound therapy

Can also be used to reteach the auditory processing center of the brain to easily handle sound from the environment. The sound-generating device should be worn on one or both ears, depending on which is affected.

If sound were to be directly placed in the ear, patients experiencing hyperacusis would feel unpleasant and therefore the produced sound is static and gentle to the ear. Noise therapy can not be performed and finished in less than one year.

Results show that intolerance to various sounds is decreased, but along the way patients become more socially isolated from the community and depression is likely to also occur.

4. Surgery

Is a known treatment for this disease but it is not used as much as expected.

Measures of Caution

If a person suspects the diagnosis of hyperacusis the following should be avoided:

  • Loud sounds and noises
  • Migraine producers like alcohol, chocolate, junk food, cigarettes, and coffee
  • Lassitude
  • A person is recommended to exercise and rest more than usual