One way your body delivers information to you is through pain response. It’s an effective strategy though not a very enjoyable one. When that megaphone you’re standing next to gets too loud, the pain lets you know that major ear damage is happening and you immediately (if you’re smart) cover your ears or remove yourself from that extremely loud environment.
But, despite their marginal volume, 8-10% of individuals will feel pain from low volume sounds as well. 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.
Heightened sound sensitivity
Hypersensitivity to sound is known as hyperacusis. The majority of individuals with hyperacusis have episodes that are activated by a particular group of sounds (commonly sounds within a range of frequencies). Quiet noises will frequently sound really loud. And noises that are loud seem a lot louder than they actually are.
Hyperacusis is often linked to tinnitus, hearing trouble, and even neurological difficulties, although no one really knows what actually causes it. There’s a noticeable degree of personal variability with the symptoms, intensity, and treatment of hyperacusis.
What’s a typical hyperacusis response?
In most cases, hyperacusis will look and feel something like this:
- You will notice a specific sound, a sound that everyone else perceives as quiet, and that sound will sound really loud to you.
- You may notice pain and buzzing in your ears (this pain and buzzing may last for days or weeks after you hear the original sound).
- Your response and discomfort will be worse the louder the sound is.
- Balance issues and dizziness can also be experienced.
Treatments for hyperacusis
When your hyperacusis makes you vulnerable to a wide range 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 anytime you go out.
That’s why it’s so essential to get treatment. There are a variety of treatments available depending on your particular situation and we can help you choose one that’s best for you. The most popular options include the following.
One of the most frequently implemented treatments for hyperacusis is something called a masking device. While it may sound perfect for Halloween (sorry), in reality, a masking device is a piece of technology that cancels out certain wavelengths of sounds. These devices, then, are able to selectively mask those triggering wavelengths of sound before they ever reach your ear. You can’t have a hyperacusis episode if you can’t hear the triggering sound!
Earplugs are a less state-of-the-art take on the same general approach: you can’t have a hyperacusis event if you’re unable to hear… well, anything. There are certainly some disadvantages to this low tech approach. There’s some evidence to suggest that, over the long run, the earplugs can throw your hearing ecosystem even further out of whack and make your hyperacusis worse. Consult us if you’re considering wearing earplugs.
One of the most thorough approaches to managing hyperacusis is known as ear retraining therapy. You’ll try to change the way you respond to certain types of sounds by utilizing physical therapy, emotional counseling, and a combination of devices. The concept is that you can train yourself to ignore sounds (kind of like with tinnitus). This strategy depends on your commitment but generally has a positive success rate.
Strategies that are less common
There are also some less prevalent approaches for treating hyperacusis, including medications or ear tubes. Both of these approaches have met with only varying success, so they aren’t as commonly utilized (it’ll depend on the person and the specialist).
Treatment makes a big difference
Depending on how you experience your symptoms, which differ from person to person, a unique treatment plan can be developed. Effectively treating hyperacusis depends on finding an approach that’s best for you.