One way your body provides information to you is through pain response. It’s not a terribly fun approach but it can be effective. When that megaphone you’re standing next to gets too loud, the pain lets you know that major ear damage is occurring and you immediately (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 detected as painfully loud, in spite of their measured decibel level. Hearing specialists refer to this affliction as hyperacusis. It’s a medical term for overly sensitive ears. The symptoms of hyperacusis can be managed but there’s no cure.
Increased sensitivity to sound
Hyperacusis is a hypersensitivity to sound. Usually sounds in a particular frequency trigger episodes of hyperacusis for people who suffer from it. Typically, quiet noises sound loud. And noises that are loud seem a lot louder than they are.
Hyperacusis is often connected with tinnitus, hearing trouble, and even neurological issues, although no one really knows what actually causes it. There’s a noticeable degree of personal variability with the symptoms, severity, and treatment of hyperacusis.
What’s a typical hyperacusis response?
In most cases, hyperacusis will look and feel something like this:
- Everybody else will think a certain sound is quiet but it will sound very loud to you.
- After you hear the initial sound, you could experience pain and hear buzzing for days or even weeks.
- Your response and pain will be worse the louder the sound is.
- You might also experience dizziness and problems keeping your balance.
Hyperacusis treatment treatment
When you have hyperacusis the world can become a minefield, particularly when your ears are extremely sensitive to a wide range of frequencies. Your hearing could be bombarded and you could be left with an awful headache and ringing ears anytime you go out.
That’s why it’s so crucial to get treatment. You’ll want to come in and talk with us about which treatments will be most up your alley (this all tends to be quite variable). The most popular options include the following.
A device known as a masking device is one of the most common treatments for hyperacusis. This is technology that can cancel out certain wavelengths. So those unpleasant frequencies can be eliminated before they get to your ears. If you can’t hear the triggering sound, you won’t have a hyperacusis attack.
Earplugs are a less state-of-the-art take on the same basic approach: you can’t have a hyperacusis episode if you can’t hear… well, anything. There are definitely some disadvantages to this low tech method. There’s some research that suggests 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, contact us for a consultation.
One of the most in-depth approaches to treating hyperacusis is called ear retraining therapy. You’ll use a mix of devices, physical therapy, and emotional therapy to try to change how you respond to certain types of sounds. The concept is that you can train yourself to disregard sounds (rather like with tinnitus). This strategy depends on your dedication but usually has a positive rate of success.
Less prevalent strategies
Less prevalent methods, like ear tubes or medication, are also used to manage hyperacusis. These strategies are less commonly used, depending on the specialist and the person, because they have met with mixed results.
Treatment makes a huge difference
Depending on how you experience your symptoms, which differ from person to person, an individual treatment plan can be developed. Successfully treating hyperacusis depends on finding a strategy that’s best for you.