One way your body provides information to you is through pain response. It’s an effective method though not a very enjoyable one. When your ears begin to feel the pain of a really loud megaphone next to 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 perceived as painfully loud, in spite of their measured decibel level. This affliction is known by experts as hyperacusis. This is the medical label for excessively sensitive ears. The symptoms of hyperacusis can be managed but there’s no cure.
Increased sensitivity to sound
Hyperacusis is a hypersensitivity to sound. Usually sounds in a distinct frequency trigger episodes of hyperacusis for individuals who experience it. Quiet noises will often sound very loud. And noises that are loud sound a lot louder than they are.
Hyperacusis is commonly connected with tinnitus, hearing problems, 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 individual variability.
What’s a typical hyperacusis response?
In most instances, hyperacusis will look and feel something like this:
- You may experience pain and buzzing in your ears (this pain and buzzing could last for days or weeks after you hear the original sound).
- Everybody else will think a certain sound is quiet but it will sound extremely loud to you.
- You might also experience dizziness and difficulty keeping your balance.
- Your response and pain will be worse the louder the sound is.
Hyperacusis treatment treatment
When you have hyperacusis the world can be a minefield, particularly when your ears are very sensitive to a wide assortment of frequencies. Your hearing could be bombarded and you could be left with a horrible headache and ringing ears anytime 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 popular treatments for hyperacusis. While it might sound ideal for Halloween (sorry), in reality, a masking device is a piece of technology that cancels out specific wavelengths of sounds. So those offensive frequencies can be eliminated before they get to your ears. If you can’t hear the offending sound, you won’t have a hyperacusis attack.
Earplugs are a less state-of-the-art take on the same general approach: if all sound is stopped, there’s no possibility of a hyperacusis episode. It’s definitely a low-tech strategy, and there are some drawbacks. Your general hearing issues, including hyperacusis, may get worse by using this strategy, according to some evidence. If you’re considering using earplugs, give us a call for a consultation.
An strategy, known as ear retraining therapy, is one of the most thorough hyperacusis treatments. You’ll use a mix 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 dismiss sounds (kind of like with tinnitus). Generally, this strategy has a good success rate but depends heavily on your commitment to the process.
Approaches that are less prevalent
Less common approaches, like 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 commonly utilized (it’ll depend on the individual and the specialist).
Treatment makes a big difference
Depending on how you experience your symptoms, which differ from person to person, a specialized treatment plan can be created. Effectively treating hyperacusis depends on finding an approach that’s best for you.