One way your body delivers information to you is through pain response. It’s not a terribly enjoyable approach but it can be effective. When your ears start to feel the pain of a very loud megaphone next to you, you know damage is occurring and you can take measures to move further away or at least cover your ears.
But for around 8-10% of people, 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. There’s no cure for hyperacusis, but there are treatments that can help you get a handle on your symptoms.
Elevated sensitivity to sound
Hyperacusis is a hypersensitivity to sound. Most of the time sounds within a distinct frequency trigger episodes of hyperacusis for people who suffer from it. Quiet noises will frequently sound really loud. And noises that are loud sound a lot louder than they actually are.
No one’s really certain what causes hyperacusis, though it is often related to tinnitus or other hearing problems (and, in some cases, neurological concerns). There’s a noticeable degree of individual variability when it comes to the symptoms, intensity, and treatment of hyperacusis.
What kind of response is normal for hyperacusis?
In most cases, hyperacusis will look and feel something like this:
- The louder the sound is, the more intense your response and pain will be.
- You might also experience dizziness and difficulty keeping your balance.
- You will notice a specific sound, a sound that everybody else perceives as quiet, and that sound will seem really loud to you.
- You might experience pain and buzzing in your ears (this pain and buzzing may last for days or weeks after you hear the original sound).
Treatments for hyperacusis
When you have 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 lovely 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 essential. You’ll want to come in and talk with us about which treatments will be most up your alley (this all tends to be rather variable). The most popular options include the following.
A device called a masking device is one of the most common treatments for hyperacusis. While it may sound perfect for Halloween (sorry), in reality, 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 get to your ear. You can’t have a hyperacusis episode if you can’t hear the triggering sound!
A less state-of-the-art strategy to this general method is earplugs: if all sound is blocked, there’s no possibility of a hyperacusis event. There are undoubtedly some disadvantages to this low tech strategy. Your overall hearing issues, including hyperacusis, could worsen by using this strategy, according to some evidence. If you’re thinking about using earplugs, contact us for a consultation.
An approach, known as ear retraining therapy, is one of the most thorough hyperacusis treatments. You’ll try to change how you react to certain types of sounds by utilizing physical therapy, emotional counseling, and a combination of devices. The concept is that you can train yourself to ignore sounds (rather like with tinnitus). Generally, this approach has a good rate of success but depends a great deal on your dedication to the process.
Strategies that are less common
Less prevalent approaches, including ear tubes or medication, are also utilized to treat hyperacusis. These strategies are less commonly utilized, depending on the specialist and the individual, because they have met with mixed results.
A huge difference can come from treatment
Depending on how you experience your symptoms, which differ from person to person, an individual treatment plan can be developed. Successfully treating hyperacusis depends on finding a strategy that’s best for you.