Hyperacusis is a condition in which a person has a higher sensitivity than normal to everyday sounds. Sounds in general, whether loud or not, trigger sensitivity. People afflicted with this condition often report that they have difficulty performing everyday activities, and subsequently avoid social situations all together. Others state that they try to adapt, and wear earplugs to decrease the intensity of sound.
According to The Hyperacusis Network, hyperacusis is a rare condition affecting 1 out of 50,000 people. It can affect people of all ages and can develop in one or both ears.
People who have hyperacusis have difficulty dealing with everyday sounds (e.g., TVs, dishwashers, automobiles, babies crying), and consequently these sounds can cause a physical pain in the ear or a feeling of fullness (pressure); which in turn, may trigger other symptoms such as anxiety, headache, fatigue and concentration difficulties.
There is no definitive evidence that hyperacusis specifically causes hearing loss, but if you already have hearing loss you may develop hyperacusis.
Generally, there is no cure for hyperacusis; however, for cases of trauma to the brain or hearing system, it may get better over time. For cases with an undetermined cause, relief may not come on so quickly without some sort of therapeutic intervention.
There are several treatment options available to help patients reduce their fear and anxieties, develop coping strategies, and reduce their sensitivity to sound–all with the goal to ensure a better quality of life.
With the guidance of an audiologist, sound therapy can be administered to patients to help them rebuild their tolerance to sounds. Patient’s wear a noise-generating device that produces soft, narrow-band sound, and over a period of 6-12 months, it helps the patient retrain the brain’s auditory processing center to accept everyday sounds as normal.
Sometimes an audiologist may recommend that a patient wear adequate ear protection (e.g., earplugs, earmuffs) to help muffle loud noises. This is usually only recommended for specific occasions (e.g., like attending concerts or using power tools), because avoiding sounds on a regular basis may make someone more sensitive to sound.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
CBT is a form of counseling that helps people recognize that their negative thought patterns are having an ill-effect on how they live their lives in relation to hyperacusis. The therapist works with patients to help them develop more positive thought patterns with the hope that they will be more engaging with social and work-related activities, and less apt to isolate themselves.
The best way to prevent hyperacusis is to avoid loud noises whenever possible and wear ear protection when needed.