One way your body delivers information to you is through pain response. It’s not a terribly fun method but it can be effective. When that megaphone you’re standing near gets too loud, the pain lets you know that significant ear damage is happening and you immediately (if you’re smart) cover your ears or remove yourself from that rather loud environment.
But for around 8-10% of people, quiet sounds can be perceived as painfully loud, despite their measured decibel level. This condition is referred to by experts as hyperacusis. This is the medical name for excessively sensitive ears. The symptoms of hyperacusis can be managed but there’s no cure.
Heightened sound sensitivity
Hypersensitivity to sound is known as hyperacusis. Most people with hyperacusis have episodes that are brought about by a certain set of sounds (typically sounds within a range of frequencies). Typically, quiet noises sound loud. And loud noises seem even louder.
nobody’s really sure what causes hyperacusis, although it is often linked to tinnitus or other hearing issues (and, in some cases, neurological concerns). There’s a noticeable degree of personal variability when it comes to the symptoms, severity, and treatment of hyperacusis.
What’s a normal hyperacusis response?
In most cases, hyperacusis will look and feel something like this:
- Everyone else will think a specific sound is quiet but it will sound very loud to you.
- The louder the sound is, the more intense your response and discomfort will be.
- You may also have dizziness and difficulty keeping your balance.
- After you hear the initial sound, you may experience pain and hear buzzing for days or even weeks.
Treatments for hyperacusis
When your hyperacusis makes you vulnerable to a wide range of frequencies, the world can seem like a minefield. You never know when a wonderful 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. There are various treatments available depending on your particular situation and we can help you choose one that’s best for you. The most common options include the following.
One of the most frequently deployed treatments for hyperacusis is something called a masking device. This is technology that can cancel out certain wavelengths. These devices, then, can 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 sophisticated strategy to this basic method is earplugs: you can’t have a hyperacusis attack if you’re unable to hear… well, anything. It’s certainly a low-tech approach, and there are some drawbacks. 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 strategy, known as ear retraining therapy, is one of the most comprehensive hyperacusis treatments. You’ll use a mix of devices, physical therapy, and emotional therapy to try to change how you react to certain kinds of sounds. Training yourself to dismiss sounds is the basic idea. Generally, this approach has a good success rate but depends a great deal on your commitment to the process.
Less prevalent strategies
Less prevalent methods, including ear tubes or medication, are also used to manage hyperacusis. These approaches are less commonly used, depending on the specialist and the person, because they have delivered mixed results.
A huge difference can come from treatment
Because hyperacusis will differ from person to person, a specialized treatment plan can be formulated depending on your symptoms as you experience them. There’s no one best approach to managing hyperacusis, it really depends on choosing the right treatment for you.