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 near gets too loud, the pain lets you know that significant ear damage is happening and you instantly (if you’re smart) cover your ears or remove yourself from that extremely loud environment.
But, in spite of their minimal volume, 8-10% of people will feel pain from low volume sounds as well. This affliction is referred to by experts as hyperacusis. It’s a medical term for overly sensitive ears. The symptoms of hyperacusis can be managed but there’s no cure.
Elevated sensitivity to sound
Hyperacusis is a hypersensitivity to sound. Most of the time sounds in a particular frequency trigger episodes of hyperacusis for individuals who experience it. Normally, quiet noises sound loud. And loud noises seem even louder.
Hyperacusis is commonly linked to tinnitus, hearing trouble, and even neurological issues, though no one really knows what actually causes it. There’s a noticeable degree of personal variability when it comes to the symptoms, intensity, and treatment of hyperacusis.
What’s a normal hyperacusis response?
In most cases, hyperacusis will look and feel something like this:
- Everybody else will think a specific sound is quiet but it will sound very loud to you.
- Your response and pain will be worse the louder the sound is.
- After you hear the initial sound, you may experience pain and hear buzzing for days or even weeks.
- Balance issues and dizziness can also be experienced.
Treatments for hyperacusis
When your hyperacusis makes you sensitive to a wide range of frequencies, the world can seem like a minefield. You never know when a pleasant night out will suddenly turn into an audio onslaught that will leave you with ringing ears and a three-day migraine.
That’s why treatment is so crucial. There are various treatments available depending on your particular situation and we can help you choose one that’s best for you. The most common options include the following.
One of the most commonly used treatments for hyperacusis is something called a masking device. This is a device that can cancel out specific wavelengths. So those offending frequencies can be eliminated before they reach your ears. If you can’t hear the offending sound, you won’t have a hyperacusis attack.
Earplugs are a less sophisticated take on the same basic approach: you can’t have a hyperacusis attack if you can’t hear… well, anything. It’s definitely a low-tech approach, and there are some drawbacks. There’s some research that suggests that, over time, the earplugs can throw your hearing ecosystem even further off and make your hyperacusis worse. Consult us if you’re thinking about using earplugs.
One of the most comprehensive approaches to managing hyperacusis is called ear retraining therapy. You’ll use a mix of devices, physical therapy, and emotional therapy to try to change how you react to particular kinds of sounds. The idea is that you can train yourself to ignore sounds (kind of like with tinnitus). This process depends on your dedication but generally has a positive success rate.
Methods that are less common
There are also some less common approaches for treating hyperacusis, like medications or ear tubes. These approaches are less commonly utilized, depending on the specialist and the person, because they have delivered mixed success.
A big difference can come from treatment
Because hyperacusis tends to differ from person to person, a unique treatment plan can be developed depending on your symptoms as you experience them. Successfully treating hyperacusis depends on determining an approach that’s best for you.