One way your body provides information to you is through pain response. It’s not a very enjoyable 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 occurring and you instantly (if you’re smart) cover your ears or remove yourself from that extremely loud environment.
But for about 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 term for overly sensitive ears. There’s no cure for hyperacusis, but there are treatments that can help you get a handle on your symptoms.
Heightened sound sensitivity
Hyperacusis is a hypersensitivity to sound. The majority of individuals with hyperacusis have episodes that are activated by a certain group of sounds (usually sounds within a range of frequencies). Quiet noises will often sound really loud. And loud noises sound even louder.
nobody’s really sure what causes hyperacusis, although it is often related to tinnitus or other hearing issues (and, in some cases, neurological concerns). When it comes to symptoms, intensity, and treatment, there is a noticeable degree of individual variability.
What kind of response is typical for hyperacusis?
In most cases, hyperacusis will look and feel something like this:
- Balance problems and dizziness can also be experienced.
- You might experience pain and buzzing in your ears (this pain and buzzing may last for days or weeks after you hear the original sound).
- Everybody else will think a certain sound is quiet but it will sound extremely loud to you.
- Your response and discomfort will be worse the louder the sound is.
Hyperacusis treatment treatment
When you are dealing with hyperacusis the world can be a minefield, particularly when your ears are very sensitive to a wide range of frequencies. You never know when a pleasant night out will suddenly become an audio onslaught that will leave you with ringing ears and a three-day migraine.
That’s why it’s so important to get treatment. There are a variety of treatments available depending on your particular situation and we can help you pick one that’s best for you. Here are some of the most common options:
A device called a masking device is one of the most popular treatments for hyperacusis. While it might sound ideal for Halloween (sorry), actually though, a masking device is a piece of technology that cancels out certain wavelengths of sounds. These devices, then, can selectively hide those triggering wavelengths of sound before they ever reach your ear. You can’t have a hyperacusis episode if you can’t hear the offending sound!
Earplugs are a less sophisticated play on the same general approach: if all sound is stopped, there’s no possibility of a hyperacusis episode. There are certainly some drawbacks to this low tech approach. Your general hearing problems, including hyperacusis, could worsen by using this approach, according to some evidence. Consult us if you’re thinking about using earplugs.
An approach, called ear retraining therapy, is one of the most extensive hyperacusis treatments. You’ll use a combination of devices, physical therapy, and emotional therapy to try to change how you respond to certain kinds of sounds. The concept is that you can train yourself to dismiss sounds (rather like with tinnitus). This strategy depends on your commitment but usually has a positive success rate.
Less prevalent solutions
There are also some less common strategies for treating hyperacusis, such as medications or ear tubes. These strategies are less commonly used, depending on the specialist and the individual, because they have delivered mixed success.
A huge difference can come from treatment
Depending on how you experience your symptoms, which differ from person to person, a specialized treatment plan can be developed. Successfully treating hyperacusis depends on finding an approach that’s best for you.