One way your body provides information to you is through pain response. It’s not a very fun approach but it can be effective. When your ears begin to feel the pain of a very loud megaphone near you, you know damage is happening and you can take measures to move further away or at least cover your ears.
But, despite their marginal volume, 8-10% of individuals will feel pain from quiet sounds too. Hearing specialists refer to this condition as hyperacusis. It’s a fancy name for overly sensitive ears. The symptoms of hyperacusis can be managed but there’s no cure.
Increased sensitivity to sound
Hypersensitivity to sound is known as hyperacusis. Usually sounds within a specific frequency trigger episodes of hyperacusis for people who suffer from it. Quiet noises will frequently sound extremely loud. And loud noises sound even louder.
No one’s really sure what causes hyperacusis, although it is often related to tinnitus or other hearing problems (and, in some instances, neurological issues). When it comes to symptoms, intensity, and treatment, there is a significant degree of personal variability.
What type of response is normal for hyperacusis?
In most instances, hyperacusis will look and feel something like this:
- You may also have dizziness and trouble keeping your balance.
- Your response and discomfort will be worse the louder the sound is.
- Everyone else will think a particular sound is quiet but it will sound very loud to you.
- You might notice 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 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 horrible headache and ringing ears anytime you go out.
That’s why treatment is so important. You’ll want to come in and talk with us about which treatments will be your best option (this all tends to be quite variable). Here are some of the most prevalent options:
One of the most frequently implemented treatments for hyperacusis is something called a masking device. While it might sound ideal for Halloween (sorry), in reality, a masking device is a piece of technology that cancels out select wavelengths of sounds. So those offensive frequencies can be removed before they make it to your ears. You can’t have a hyperacusis episode if you can’t hear the offending sound!
Earplugs are a less sophisticated take on the same basic approach: you can’t have a hyperacusis attack if you’re unable to hear… well, anything. There are certainly some drawbacks to this low tech approach. There’s some research that suggests that, over time, the earplugs can throw your hearing ecosystem even further off and make your hyperacusis worse. Consult us if you’re considering wearing earplugs.
An approach, called ear retraining therapy, is one of the most comprehensive hyperacusis treatments. You’ll try to change the way you respond to certain kinds of sounds by utilizing physical therapy, emotional counseling, and a mix of devices. The concept is that you can train yourself to ignore sounds (kind of like with tinnitus). Normally, this strategy has a good rate of success but depends heavily on your dedication to the process.
Strategies that are less prevalent
There are also some less common strategies for treating hyperacusis, like medications or ear tubes. These approaches are less commonly utilized, depending on the specialist and the person, because they have delivered mixed success.
Treatment makes a huge difference
Depending on how you experience your symptoms, which vary from person to person, a specialized treatment plan can be created. There’s no one best approach to managing hyperacusis, it really depends on choosing the best treatment for you.