One way your body offers information to you is through pain response. It’s an effective strategy though not a really enjoyable one. When your ears start to feel the pain of a very loud megaphone next to you, you know damage is happening 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. Hearing specialists refer to this condition as hyperacusis. This is the medical term for excessively sensitive ears. There’s no cure for hyperacusis, but there are treatments that can help you get a handle on your symptoms.
Elevated sensitivity to sound
Hyperacusis is a hypersensitivity to sound. The majority of individuals with hyperacusis have episodes that are brought about by a specific set of sounds (typically sounds within a range of frequencies). Quiet noises will often sound really loud. And loud noises seem even louder.
Hyperacusis is frequently linked to tinnitus, hearing trouble, and even neurological difficulties, though no one really knows what actually causes it. With regards to symptoms, intensity, and treatment, there is a significant degree of individual variability.
What kind of response is typical for hyperacusis?
In most instances, hyperacusis will look and feel something like this:
- You will notice a particular sound, a sound that everybody else perceives as quiet, and that sound will sound exceptionally loud to you.
- Balance problems and dizziness can also be experienced.
- The louder the sound is, the more intense your response and discomfort will be.
- After you hear the initial sound, you may experience pain and hear buzzing for days or even weeks.
Hyperacusis treatment treatment
When your hyperacusis makes you sensitive to a wide variety of frequencies, the world can seem like a minefield. You never know when a lovely 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 crucial to get treatment. You’ll want to come in and speak with us about which treatments will be your best option (this all tends to be rather variable). Here are some of the most common options:
One of the most commonly used 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. So those unpleasant frequencies can be removed before they make it to your ears. You can’t have a hyperacusis episode if you can’t hear the triggering sound!
A less state-of-the-art approach to this basic method is earplugs: if all sound is blocked, there’s no possibility of a hyperacusis incident. There are definitely some drawbacks to this low tech approach. Your general hearing issues, including hyperacusis, may get worse by using this strategy, according to some evidence. If you’re considering using earplugs, contact us for a consultation.
One of the most thorough methods of treating hyperacusis is called ear retraining therapy. You’ll use a combination of devices, physical therapy, and emotional counseling to try to change the way you respond to certain kinds of sounds. The concept is that you can train yourself to ignore sounds (rather like with tinnitus). This process depends on your dedication but generally has a positive rate of success.
Less prevalent methods
Less common methods, including ear tubes or medication, are also utilized to manage hyperacusis. Both of these strategies 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 huge difference
Because hyperacusis tends to vary from person to person, a specialized treatment plan can be developed depending on your symptoms as you experience them. There’s no single best approach to managing hyperacusis, it really depends on finding the best treatment for you.