What is Hyperacusis?
Can you imagine a situation where sounds around you are unbearably loud, like someone has turned the volume dial up to the max and walked away? This is what having hyperacusis feels like.
Hyperacusis is characterized as a reduced tolerance to regular environmental sounds. It can affect every area of your life, including with friends, at work, and when engaging in activities you enjoy. Because sounds are considered to be too loud, reduced tolerance of environmentally friendly sounds can make even the most everyday tasks almost unbearable. You may also find things like watching TV, listening to music, shopping, or using the phone very stressful. Most patients also experience inner ear pain or feeling fullness (pressure) in the ears. This is the kind of pressure you get when in an airplane on descent. Hyperacusis has to be distinguished from a similar condition which changes the perception of loudness.
Hyperacusis triggers an emotional response
Although hyperacusis is physiological, it can rapidly lead to adverse psychological impacts. You may feel upset, distressed, and worried by the feeling of hearing overly loud sounds. You may also discover that after hearing an uncomfortable sound, the next time you hear it will be worse.
You may also react worse when you are in an area where you expect to hear the noise. This is because you may become nervous about the thought of hearing the noise, which makes you even more intolerant to the sound. Your brain actually makes you more susceptible to sound if you are scared or stressed. This can lead to a destructive and unhelpful thought pattern.
How common is hyperacusis?
The number of individuals with troubling hyperacusis is hard to measure since there has been very little research on the topic. Recent research conducted online has suggested that the number of people with the condition may be as large as 9%, but most experts think that it is too big. The latest figures indicate that approximately 2% of the adult population has hyperacusis.
Comparatively few numbers who have the condition explain why finding the proper diagnosis is difficult, as very few doctors understand the condition.
Although research is ongoing, it's likely that there are several distinct causes of hyperacusis. We review a few of them here. It might be a consequence of an issue of certain parts of the hearing system responsible for “balancing” sounds and safeguarding the system. In noisy surroundings, your brain sends data about loud noise back to your ear to lower the "volume" and protect the inner ear. It might be that this feedback mechanism is damaged, which is the cause of the hypersensitivity to sound.
Hyperacusis could also come from the ears losing most of their dynamic range. This is the ear's ability to handle rapid sound shifts. Suddenly, regular noises sound intolerably loud. The disorder is typically persistent and usually associated with tinnitus, but can also be found in those without any hearing loss.
As the brain has the role of processing sound signals, it may be processing the sounds in the wrong way. Recent study suggests that one cause of hyperacusis may be insufficient amounts of a certain chemical in the brain that regulates the amount of sound signals being received from the ear. This reason could explain why some individuals with hyperacusis might also have extreme light sensitivity (photophobia).
We also understand that some individuals develop hyperacusis first after sudden exposure to a burst of loud noise, or after a head injury. An event like this can harm fragile structures inside the inner ear, resulting in greater noise sensitivity.
There is also a link to tinnitus. Many individuals with tinnitus have hyperacusis too and vice versa.
Now you know more about hyperacusis, how do you treat it? Read the next page to find out.