Pain is your body’s means of giving you information. It’s an effective strategy though not a really enjoyable one. When that megaphone you’re standing next to goes too loud, the pain lets you know that significant ear damage is occurring and you instantly (if you’re wise) cover your ears or remove yourself from that extremely loud environment.
But for around 8-10% of people, quiet sounds can be detected as painfully loud, despite their measured decibel level. Hearing specialists refer to this affliction as hyperacusis. It’s a medical term for overly sensitive ears. The symptoms of hyperacusis can be managed but there’s no cure.
Elevated sensitivity to sound
Hyperacusis is a hypersensitivity to sound. Most individuals with hyperacusis have episodes that are triggered by a particular group of sounds (commonly sounds within a range of frequencies). Quiet noises will often sound really loud. And noises that are loud seem a lot louder than they actually are.
Hyperacusis is often associated with tinnitus, hearing trouble, and even neurological difficulties, though no one really knows what actually causes it. There’s a noticeable degree of personal variability with the symptoms, severity, and treatment of hyperacusis.
What’s a normal hyperacusis response?
Here’s how hyperacusis, in most cases, will look and feel::
- The louder the sound is, the more extreme your response and discomfort will be.
- You will notice a specific sound, a sound that everybody else perceives as quiet, and that sound will sound very loud to you.
- You might also experience dizziness and difficulty keeping your balance.
- You may experience pain and buzzing in your ears (this pain and buzzing may last for days or weeks after you hear the original sound).
Hyperacusis treatment treatment
When your hyperacusis makes you vulnerable to a wide assortment of frequencies, the world can be like a minefield. Your hearing could be assaulted and you could be left with a terrible headache and ringing ears whenever you go out.
That’s why treatment is so important. There are a variety of treatments available depending on your particular situation and we can help you pick one that’s best for you. The most popular options include the following.
A device called a masking device is one of the most popular treatments for hyperacusis. While it might sound perfect for Halloween (sorry), in reality, a masking device is a piece of technology that cancels out certain wavelengths of sounds. So those unpleasant frequencies can be eliminated before they get to your ears. You can’t have a hyperacusis episode if you can’t hear the offending sound!
A less state-of-the-art strategy to this general method is earplugs: you can’t have a hyperacusis episode if you can’t hear… well, anything. It’s undoubtedly a low-tech approach, and there are some drawbacks. There’s some research that suggests that, over the long run, the earplugs can throw your hearing ecosystem even further off and make your hyperacusis worse. If you’re thinking about using earplugs, give us a call for a consultation.
One of the most thorough methods of treating hyperacusis is called ear retraining therapy. You’ll try to change how you respond to specific kinds of sounds by employing physical therapy, emotional counseling, and a mix of devices. The idea is that you can train yourself to disregard sounds (kind of like with tinnitus). This strategy depends on your dedication but usually has a positive success rate.
Less prevalent strategies
There are also some less prevalent strategies for treating hyperacusis, including medications or ear tubes. Both of these approaches have met with only mixed results, so they aren’t as commonly utilized (it’ll depend on the person and the specialist).
A big difference can come from treatment
Because hyperacusis has a tendency to differ from person to person, an individual treatment plan can be developed depending on your symptoms as you encounter them. There’s no single best approach to managing hyperacusis, it really depends on finding the right treatment for you.