Hyperacusis

What is hyperacusis?

Hyperacusis is a rare condition that can affect the way that sounds are perceived. Those living with hyperacusis experience a greater sensitivity to the noises around them, meaning that everyday sounds, such as car engines and ringing telephones, are uncomfortable, and even painful, to hear. As with most ear disorders and diseases, the severity of hyperacusis can vary from mild symptoms to a more debilitating condition. It’s believed that approximately one in 50,000 people live with the noise sensitivity caused by hyperacusis.

Hyperacusis symptoms

Hyperacusis is characterised by discomfort when hearing certain sounds. Some may experience mild discomfort, while others will feel physical pain in response to sounds that seem too loud. In some cases, people living with hyperacusis may also experience phonophobia, a fear of noise. As those living with the condition start to associate noise with pain, a genuine fear may develop. Hyperacusis is often experienced by those also with tinnitus and may also be linked to anxiety and depression.

 

Some common symptoms of hyperacusis include:

  • Finding ordinary sounds louder than normal
  • Having the sensation fullness within the ear
  • Experiencing discomfort and pain when exposed to loud noise
  • Finding that your voice sounds loud or distorted when you speak
  • Becoming fearful of loud noises

Hyperacusis causes

There is still some debate around what it is that causes hyperacusis. Some may find that it develops in conjunction with an existing medical condition, while others experience its symptoms alongside hearing loss. Some report developing the condition as a result of post-traumatic stress disorder, while the cases of other individuals go unexplained with no clear cause identified.

 

Hyperacusis has been found to develop alongside many different conditions and injuries, including:

  • Head injuries
  • Ear injuries
  • Hearing loss
  • Some viral infections
  • Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder
  • Bell’s palsy
  • Some forms of epilepsy
  • Meniere's disease
  • Migraines
  • Lyme disease
  • Tinnitus
  • Williams syndrome
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Exposure to loud noise
  • Depression

Diagnosing hyperacusis

At present, there are no clinical tests that can accurately determine whether someone is experiencing hyperacusis or not. Diagnosing hyperacusis relies primarily on the patient’s description of their symptoms and any discomfort that may be felt. Audiologists and doctors use the information that they gather from talking with their patient to determine whether hyperacusis is the likely cause of their symptoms. A hearing test may also be performed to discover what volume levels the patient can tolerate.

Hyperacusis treatment

As many people living with hyperacusis find that it develops in conjunction with another medical condition, the best place to start may be to treat the original condition. To do so, book an appointment with your GP to discuss any symptoms you may be experiencing. If an underlying condition cannot be identified, sound therapy is often the next treatment route that is explored. Similar in principle to the treatment of tinnitus, sound therapy may help those living with the condition become desensitised to the noises that cause the greatest pain and negative reactions.

Some may find that cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) also aids in the treatment of hyperacusis, especially if they live with anxiety or depression also. Without treatment, the condition could cause or exacerbate existing anxiety and depression. CBT may help those living with hyperacusis to better manage the emotions associated with their symptoms and reduce the feelings of anxiety they experience.

Those who experience sound sensitivity and have hearing loss may benefit from having their hearing aids adjusted to allow for a more comfortable level of amplification. If you believe that you have hyperacusis and wear hearing aids, it may be worth discussing your options with your audiologist or hearing care professional.

Prevention measures

Although the causes of hyperacusis are yet to be identified, ensuring that you care for your hearing may help to reduce your chances of developing the condition as well as others such as hearing loss and tinnitus. Caring for your hearing isn’t overly complicated, with a few simple behaviours helping you to protect the delicate structures within the ear. To protect your ears, look to:

  • Listen to music at lower volumes and for shorter amounts of time
  • Use hearing protection at work, when attending concerts and any time you may be exposed to loud noise for an extended period
  • Understand the effect that exposure to loud noise can have on your hearing and look to minimise the amount of time you spend around excessively loud sounds (over 85 decibels)
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