Pain is your body’s way of supplying information. It’s an effective strategy though not a very pleasant one. When that megaphone you’re standing next to goes 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 rather loud environment.
But for around 8-10% of people, quiet sounds can be detected as painfully loud, in spite of their measured decibel level. Hearing specialists refer to this affliction 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
Hyperacusis is a hypersensitivity to sound. The majority of individuals with hyperacusis have episodes that are brought about by a specific set of sounds (usually sounds within a frequency range). Typically, quiet noises sound loud. And loud noises seem even louder.
nobody’s quite certain what causes hyperacusis, although it’s often linked to tinnitus or other hearing problems (and, in some instances, neurological concerns). With regards to symptoms, intensity, and treatment, there’s a noticeable degree of individual variability.
What’s a typical hyperacusis response?
In most instances, hyperacusis will look and feel something like this:
- After you hear the initial sound, you could experience pain and hear buzzing for days or even weeks.
- You will hear a specific sound, a sound that everyone else perceives as quiet, and that sound will sound really loud to you.
- Balance issues and dizziness can also be experienced.
- The louder the sound is, the more extreme your response and discomfort will be.
Treatments for hyperacusis
When you have hyperacusis the world can be a minefield, particularly when your ears are extremely sensitive to a wide variety of frequencies. You never know when a lovely night out will suddenly turn into an audio onslaught that will leave you with ringing ears and a three-day migraine.
That’s why it’s so essential to get treatment. There are a variety of treatments available depending on your specific situation and we can help you pick one that’s best for you. The most popular options include the following.
One of the most frequently deployed treatments for hyperacusis is something called a masking device. This is a device that can cancel out specified frequencies. So those unpleasant frequencies can be removed before they get to your ears. You can’t have a hyperacusis attack 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 episode if you’re unable to hear… well, anything. There are undoubtedly some disadvantages to this low tech method. 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. If you’re thinking about using earplugs, call us for a consultation.
An approach, called ear retraining therapy, is one of the most thorough hyperacusis treatments. You’ll use a mix of devices, physical therapy, and emotional therapy to try to change how you react to certain types of sounds. The concept is that you can train yourself to dismiss sounds (rather like with tinnitus). Normally, this approach has a good rate of success but depends heavily on your dedication to the process.
Less common methods
Less prevalent strategies, including ear tubes or medication, are also used to treat hyperacusis. Both of these approaches have met with only varying success, so they aren’t as frequently used (it’ll depend on the individual and the specialist).
Treatment makes a big difference
Depending on how you experience your symptoms, which differ from person to person, a specialized treatment plan can be developed. There’s no one best approach to treating hyperacusis, it really depends on finding the right treatment for you.