Hyperacusis

What is hyperacusis?

Hyperacusis is a condition that affects how you perceive sounds. You can experience a heightened sensitivity to particular sounds that are not usually a problem for others. This means loud noises, such as fireworks, and everyday sounds like telephones can feel uncomfortable and sometimes painful. It can vary in its severity, from being a mild inconvenience to a life-changing condition.

Symptoms

If you think you are suffering with hyperacusis, you will feel a sudden discomfort when hearing particular sounds. It can sometimes feel very painful, and in some cases seem as though all sounds are just too loud.

It can sometimes be coupled with phonophobia, a fear of noise. This is often sparked by the pain sounds can cause, as you begin to associate noise with pain. The condition can also be linked to anxiety and depression, and can become an isolating problem. Hyperacusis can often be experienced if you suffer from tinnitus aswell.

Causes

What causes it to occur can differ from person to person. While you may find it occurs as a result of an existing medical condition, or you may experience it through damage to your hearing, especially from long term noise exposure,or as a condition resulting from post-traumatic stress disorder. On the other hand, some may appear to experience it for no apparent reason. While the specific causes of the condition are somewhat debatable, there are ways to help alleviate the problem.

Treatment

As it quite often appears as a result of another medical condition, investigating this may be the first step in treatment and is something your GP can start. Once this has been ruled out, you will often undergo sound therapy to approach the problem in a similar way to how tinnitus can be treated. Sound therapy is used to help you become less and less affected by the noises you are sensitive to.

You may find cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) can help, particularly if you may suffer from anxiety or depression. Hyperacusis can make these problems worse, or even cause them. CBT helps to address the emotions that come with it, and change them in order to reduce feelings of anxiety. 

People can have hearing loss and sound sensitivity, and hearing aids can be tweaked to allow for amplification without excessive amplification.

Diagnosis

The diagnosis of hyperacusis can be made by a hearing test at an ENT doctor . With this test, the doctor can tell directly whether sounds are perceived as unpleasant. A patient consultation is also a central part of the diagnosis, as the subjective symptoms of the patient are decisive. In addition, a discomfort threshold audiogram can be created, with a reduced discomfort threshold showing that even soft tones are perceived as unpleasant by the patient. Different questionnaires are also given to the patient in order to distinguish whether it is hyperacusis or misophonia, in which only certain noises are perceived as painful.

Prevention Measures

Whilst the exact cause of hyperacusis is unknown, you may experience this condition due to damage to your hearing from excessive noise exposure. To prevent this, and other hearing concerns such as hearing loss and tinnitus, there are several steps you can take to ensure you protect your hearing. These include:

  • Try listening to music at a reduced volume for shorter periods of time
  • Wearing ear protection - for example at concerts, or at work if necessary
  • Being aware that extended exposure to sounds above 85 decibels can be damage your hearing.

Hyperacusis self-help

If you are oversensitive to noise : It is important for self-help that you dare to approach background noise step by step. First of all, you can set your favorite music to a low volume and let it play in the background every day. Next, you can try with a little louder background noise. For example, go to the supermarket to get used to everyday noises again. Relaxation training or muscle relaxation exercises should be done daily. Do not forget, however, that hyperacusis can often cover othe illnesses, such as depression or burnout. Therefore, a visit to the doctor is recommended in any case.

Social and Psychological Consequences

Hyperacusis can have several negative effects on the patient's life. Above all, it affects hearing and sleeping, the ability to concentrate and the emotional well-being of the person concerned. Many people with hyperacusis withdraw from their social environment, as voices and the slightest everyday noises are so unpleasant that they prefer to avoid them at all. In some cases, withdrawal of the patient leads to social isolation, which in the worst case can lead to fear of failure or depression. For these reasons, it is highly recommended to counteract this disease with therapy in order to maintain the quality of life.

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