One way your body delivers information to you is through pain response. It’s an effective strategy though not a really enjoyable one. When that megaphone you’re standing near goes too loud, the pain lets you know that major ear damage is happening and you immediately (if you’re wise) cover your ears or remove yourself from that rather loud environment.
But, in spite of their marginal volume, 8-10% of individuals will feel pain from quiet sounds too. This condition is known by experts as hyperacusis. It’s a medical term for overly sensitive ears. There’s no cure for hyperacusis, but there are treatments that can help you get a handle on your symptoms.
Heightened sound sensitivity
Hyperacusis is a hypersensitivity to sound. Most people with hyperacusis have episodes that are activated by a certain group of sounds (typically sounds within a range of frequencies). Quiet noises will frequently sound really loud. And noises that are loud sound a lot louder than they are.
No one’s quite sure what causes hyperacusis, though it is frequently associated with tinnitus or other hearing issues (and, in some cases, neurological concerns). When it comes to symptoms, severity, and treatment, there’s a significant degree of individual variability.
What’s a normal hyperacusis response?
In most instances, hyperacusis will look and feel something like this:
- You may notice pain and buzzing in your ears (this pain and buzzing could last for days or weeks after you hear the original sound).
- You might also have dizziness and difficulty keeping your balance.
- Everybody else will think a particular sound is quiet but it will sound extremely loud to you.
- Your response and discomfort will be worse the louder the sound is.
Treatments for hyperacusis
When your hyperacusis makes you vulnerable to a wide assortment of frequencies, the world can be like a minefield. Your hearing could be bombarded and you could be left with a horrible headache and ringing ears whenever you go out.
That’s why treatment is so essential. You’ll want to come in and speak with us about which treatments will be most up your alley (this all tends to be quite variable). The most popular options include the following.
One of the most frequently used treatments for hyperacusis is something called a masking device. While it might sound perfect for Halloween (sorry), actually though, a masking device is a piece of technology that cancels out specific wavelengths of sounds. These devices, then, can selectively mask those triggering wavelengths of sound before they ever get to your ear. You can’t have a hyperacusis episode if you can’t hear the offending sound!
A less state-of-the-art strategy to this general method is earplugs: you can’t have a hyperacusis episode if you can’t hear… well, anything. There are undoubtedly some drawbacks to this low tech strategy. There’s some evidence to suggest that, over the long run, the earplugs can throw your hearing ecosystem even further off and make your hyperacusis worse. Consult us if you’re thinking about wearing earplugs.
One of the most comprehensive approaches to managing hyperacusis is called ear retraining therapy. You’ll use a mix of devices, physical therapy, and emotional therapy to try to change how you respond to certain types of sounds. Training yourself to dismiss sounds is the basic idea. This process depends on your commitment but generally has a positive success rate.
Less common strategies
There are also some less common strategies for managing hyperacusis, such as medications or ear tubes. These approaches are less commonly utilized, depending on the specialist and the person, because they have delivered mixed results.
A huge difference can come from treatment
Depending on how you experience your symptoms, which vary from person to person, a specialized treatment plan can be developed. There’s no one best approach to treating hyperacusis, it really depends on choosing the best treatment for you.