One way your body provides information to you is through pain response. It’s not a terribly enjoyable approach but it can be effective. When that megaphone you’re standing near gets too loud, the pain lets you know that severe ear damage is happening and you instantly (if you’re wise) cover your ears or remove yourself from that extremely loud environment.
But, in spite of their marginal volume, 8-10% of individuals will feel pain from low volume sounds as well. This condition is known by experts 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. Most people with hyperacusis have episodes that are activated by a particular group of sounds (usually sounds within a frequency range). Usually, quiet noises sound loud. And noises that are loud seem a lot louder than they are.
No one’s really sure what causes hyperacusis, though it is often related to tinnitus or other hearing issues (and, in some instances, neurological issues). When it comes to symptoms, severity, and treatment, there’s a noticeable degree of personal variability.
What kind of response is normal for hyperacusis?
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.
- Balance problems and dizziness can also be experienced.
- You will notice a certain sound, a sound that everybody else perceives as quiet, and that sound will sound very loud to you.
- Your response and pain will be worse the louder the sound is.
Treatments for hyperacusis
When you are dealing with hyperacusis the world can be a minefield, especially when your ears are overly sensitive to a wide variety 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 important to get treatment. You’ll want to come in and talk with us about which treatments will be your best option (this all tends to be quite variable). 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 certain frequencies. 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 episode.
Earplugs are a less sophisticated play on the same general approach: you can’t have a hyperacusis episode if you can’t hear… well, anything. It’s certainly a low-tech strategy, and there are some disadvantages. There’s some research that suggests that, over the long run, the earplugs can throw your hearing ecosystem even further off and make your hyperacusis worse. If you’re thinking about using earplugs, call us for a consultation.
One of the most in-depth approaches to managing hyperacusis is called ear retraining therapy. You’ll try to change how you react to specific types of sounds by employing physical therapy, emotional counseling, and a combination of devices. The concept is that you can train yourself to ignore sounds (kind of like with tinnitus). Normally, this approach has a good rate of success but depends a great deal on your dedication to the process.
Strategies that are less common
Less common approaches, like ear tubes or medication, are also used to manage hyperacusis. These strategies are less commonly used, depending on the specialist and the individual, because they have met with mixed success.
A huge difference can come from treatment
Because hyperacusis has a tendency to vary from person to person, a unique treatment plan can be formulated depending on your symptoms as you experience them. Effectively treating hyperacusis depends on finding a strategy that’s best for you.