It’s like a scene from a surreal dream: It’s another normal day and you’re in a crowd, walking down a busy sidewalk, when suddenly you hear a piercing, painful sound. You halt your steps to cover your ears, cringing in discomfort, and look around for the source of the disruptive noise, expecting people around you to be reacting similarly. Except they aren’t. They’re still walking, seemingly oblivious to the bothersome attack you’re experiencing.
Are you struggling with hyperacusis or sound sensitivity? Contact the doctoral-level specialists at Associated Audiologists to explore your treatment options.
For a small percentage of individuals — an estimated two to eight percent of the total population, or one in 50,000 people — that’s what hyperacusis feels like. Hyperacusis, or sound sensitivity, is described as a rare hearing condition where patients can perceive normal, everyday sounds to be extremely and abnormally loud. Normal sounds — the hiss of an espresso machine, a child’s crying, an engine starting, an alarm clock ringing, rustling papers, clanging dishes — will manifest as unbearable, acutely loud or annoying noises to someone who suffers from hyperacusis.
What causes hyperacusis/sound sensitivity?
Hyperacusis/sound sensitivity can be caused by head trauma (sometimes from airbag deployment), jaw or face surgery, inner ear conditions, auditory deprivation, certain types of hearing loss, or viral inner ear infection. Another cause of hyperacusis/sound sensitivity is exposure to loud noise, especially when it is prolonged and repeated over time. Those who frequent loud rock concerts or work in especially noisy environments, for example, can be susceptible to this hearing condition, as well as those regularly subjected to sounds of gunfire and fireworks.
There are a few conditions linked to hyperacusis — including Lyme disease, chronic fatigue syndrome, Bell’s palsy, Meniere’s disease, and autism spectrum disorder. For example, an estimated 40 percent of children with autism spectrum disorder also suffer from hyperacusis/sound sensitivity.
Hyperacusis can also co-occur and is often linked to tinnitus, though the two are separate disorders. Approximately 40 percent of patients who suffer from tinnitus — one out of every 1,000 — also suffers from hyperacusis/sound sensitivity.
Treatment for hyperacusis/sound sensitivity
There are some treatments and management strategies that can help patients who suffer from hyperacusis and sound sensitivity and enable them to live full lives.
When patients first show signs of hyperacusis/sound sensitivity, they often try to cope by wearing earplugs or earmuffs as they navigate their daily lives, dampening any intrusive sounds. But earplugs and earmuffs aren’t long-term remedies, and sometimes, hyperacusis/sound sensitivity sufferers who use these home treatments will inadvertently exacerbate their intolerance of normal sounds.
A more successful way of managing hyperacusis is sound desensitization, which is when patients work with an audiologist or specialist and listen to barely audible static noise for a set period of time every day over an extended period — six months to a year. This helps build tolerance to sound, and eventually, normal, everyday sounds will not have such a painful effect on the patient.
Since hyperacusis/sound sensitivity is so commonly linked to tinnitus, some treatments for tinnitus can also help patients with hyperacusis and sound sensitivity. Your audiologist may have other recommendations for managing hyperacusis. Regardless of the treatment, know that despite the rarity of this disorder, it is far from limiting, and plenty of patients go on to live full and happy lives with hyperacusis/sound sensitivity.
Are you experiencing hearing loss and need an audiologist? Associated Audiologists has doctoral-level professionals who can help with hearing loss, hearing aids, and hyperacusis/sound sensitivity. Contact us today to make an appointment, and prevent hearing problems from affecting your everyday lifestyle.