One way your body offers information to you is through pain response. It’s not a terribly fun approach but it can be effective. When your ears begin to feel the pain of a really loud megaphone near you, you know damage is happening and you can take steps to move further away or at least cover your ears.
But for about 8-10% of people, quiet sounds can be perceived as painfully loud, in spite of their measured decibel level. This condition is referred to by experts as hyperacusis. This is the medical label for excessively sensitive ears. The symptoms of hyperacusis can be managed but there’s no cure.
Increased sensitivity to sound
Hyperacusis is a hypersensitivity to sound. Most of the time sounds in a particular frequency trigger episodes of hyperacusis for people who suffer from it. Typically, quiet noises sound loud. And loud noises seem even louder.
nobody’s really certain what causes hyperacusis, although it is often related to tinnitus or other hearing issues (and, in some cases, neurological concerns). With regards to symptoms, intensity, and treatment, there is a significant degree of personal variability.
What’s a typical hyperacusis response?
In most instances, hyperacusis will look and feel something like this:
- After you hear the initial sound, you may experience pain and hear buzzing for days or even weeks.
- Balance problems and dizziness can also be experienced.
- You will notice a particular sound, a sound that everybody else perceives as quiet, and that sound will sound exceptionally loud to you.
- The louder the sound is, the more intense your response and discomfort will be.
Hyperacusis treatment treatment
When your hyperacusis makes you sensitive to a wide variety of frequencies, the world can be like a minefield. You never know when a pleasant night out will suddenly turn into an audio onslaught that will leave you with ringing ears and an intense migraine.
That’s why treatment is so crucial. There are a variety of treatments available depending on your specific situation and we can help you choose one that’s best for you. The most common options include the following.
One of the most frequently deployed treatments for hyperacusis is something called a masking device. This is technology that can cancel out specified frequencies. These devices, then, are able to selectively mask those triggering wavelengths of sound before they ever reach your ear. You can’t have a hyperacusis episode if you can’t hear the triggering sound!
A less state-of-the-art strategy to this basic method is earplugs: if all sound is blocked, there’s no chance of a hyperacusis incident. It’s definitely a low-tech strategy, and there are some disadvantages. There’s some evidence to suggest that, over time, the earplugs can throw your hearing ecosystem even further out of whack and make your hyperacusis worse. If you’re considering using earplugs, contact us for a consultation.
An strategy, called ear retraining therapy, is one of the most comprehensive hyperacusis treatments. You’ll use a mix of devices, physical therapy, and emotional counseling to try to change the way you respond to particular types of sounds. The idea is that you can train yourself to ignore sounds (rather like with tinnitus). Normally, this approach has a good success rate but depends heavily on your dedication to the process.
Less prevalent approaches
Less prevalent strategies, including ear tubes or medication, are also used to manage hyperacusis. These approaches are less commonly utilized, depending on the specialist and the individual, because they have met with mixed success.
Treatment makes a big difference
Depending on how you experience your symptoms, which vary from person to person, a unique treatment plan can be created. There’s no single best approach to treating hyperacusis, it really depends on finding the best treatment for you.