One way your body offers information to you is through pain response. It’s an effective strategy though not a very enjoyable one. When your ears start to feel the pain of a very loud megaphone next to you, you know damage is occurring and you can take measures to move further away or at least cover your ears.
But for around 8-10% of people, quiet sounds can be perceived as painfully loud, in spite of their measured decibel level. This condition is referred to 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. The majority of people with hyperacusis have episodes that are triggered by a specific group of sounds (typically sounds within a frequency range). Quiet noises will often sound extremely loud. And loud noises seem even louder.
No one’s really certain what causes hyperacusis, though it’s often related to tinnitus or other hearing problems (and, in some situations, neurological concerns). When it comes to symptoms, severity, and treatment, there is a noticeable degree of individual variability.
What’s a normal hyperacusis response?
Here’s how hyperacusis, in most cases, will look and feel::
- Your response and pain will be worse the louder the sound is.
- You will notice a certain sound, a sound that everyone else perceives as quiet, and that sound will sound very loud to you.
- You may also have dizziness and difficulty keeping your balance.
- You might experience pain and buzzing in your ears (this pain and buzzing could last for days or weeks after you hear the original sound).
Treatments for hyperacusis
When your hyperacusis makes you sensitive to a wide assortment of frequencies, the world can be like a minefield. Your hearing could be bombarded and you could be left with a horrible headache and ringing ears whenever you go out.
That’s why treatment is so crucial. You’ll want to come in and consult 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. This is a device that can cancel out specific frequencies. 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 triggering sound!
Earplugs are a less sophisticated take on the same general approach: if all sound is blocked, there’s no chance of a hyperacusis event. It’s certainly a low-tech approach, and there are some drawbacks. Your general hearing issues, including hyperacusis, could worsen by using this strategy, according to some evidence. If you’re thinking about using earplugs, contact us for a consultation.
One of the most in-depth methods of treating hyperacusis is called ear retraining therapy. You’ll use a mix of devices, physical therapy, and emotional counseling to try to change the way you respond to particular types of sounds. Training yourself to disregard sounds is the basic idea. This strategy depends on your dedication but generally has a positive rate of success.
Less prevalent solutions
Less common methods, like ear tubes or medication, are also used to treat hyperacusis. Both of these approaches have met with only mixed success, so they aren’t as frequently used (it’ll depend on the individual and the specialist).
Treatment makes a big difference
Because hyperacusis has a tendency to vary from person to person, a unique treatment plan can be developed depending on your symptoms as you encounter them. Effectively treating hyperacusis depends on finding a strategy that’s best for you.