One way your body provides information to you is through pain response. It’s an effective method though not a very pleasant one. When that megaphone you’re standing next to gets too loud, the pain lets you know that significant ear damage is happening and you immediately (if you’re wise) cover your ears or remove yourself from that extremely loud environment.
But for around 8-10% of individuals, quiet sounds can be detected as painfully loud, despite their measured decibel level. This affliction 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.
Elevated sensitivity to sound
Hypersensitivity to sound is known as hyperacusis. The majority of people with hyperacusis have episodes that are activated by a particular group of sounds (usually sounds within a frequency range). Quiet noises will often sound extremely loud. And loud noises sound even louder.
Hyperacusis is often connected with tinnitus, hearing trouble, and even neurological issues, though no one really knows what actually causes it. When it comes to symptoms, severity, and treatment, there is a significant degree of personal variability.
What’s a normal hyperacusis response?
Here’s how hyperacusis, in most situations, will look and feel::
- You will hear a specific sound, a sound that everybody else perceives as quiet, and that sound will sound really loud to you.
- You may also experience dizziness and difficulty keeping your balance.
- After you hear the initial sound, you may experience pain and hear buzzing for days or even weeks.
- Your response and discomfort will be worse the louder the sound is.
Treatments for hyperacusis
When you are dealing with hyperacusis the world can be a minefield, especially when your ears are extremely 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 crucial. 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 prevalent options:
A device called a masking device is one of the most common treatments for hyperacusis. While it might sound ideal for Halloween (sorry), actually though, a masking device is a piece of technology that cancels out select wavelengths of sounds. These devices, then, have the ability to selectively hide those triggering wavelengths of sound before they ever reach your ear. If you can’t hear the triggering sound, you won’t have a hyperacusis attack.
A less sophisticated approach to this basic method is earplugs: if all sound is stopped, there’s no possibility of a hyperacusis incident. There are definitely some drawbacks to this low tech method. Your overall hearing issues, including hyperacusis, may get worse by using this approach, according to some evidence. If you’re considering using earplugs, contact us for a consultation.
An strategy, called ear retraining therapy, is one of the most extensive hyperacusis treatments. You’ll use a combination of devices, physical therapy, and emotional therapy to try to change how you react to certain types of sounds. The concept 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.
Methods that are less prevalent
Less prevalent strategies, including ear tubes or medication, are also used to treat hyperacusis. Both of these strategies have met with only mixed success, so they aren’t as frequently used (it’ll depend on the person and the specialist).
A huge difference can come from treatment
Depending on how you experience your symptoms, which vary from person to person, a specialized treatment plan can be created. Effectively treating hyperacusis depends on finding a strategy that’s best for you.