Hyperacusis

Hyperacusis is a rare auditory condition that affects about 1 out of 50,000 people. It makes it difficult to deal with ordinary sounds, and is sometimes called “sound sensitivity” or “noise sensitivity.” For a person with hyperacusis, some environmental sounds might seem unbearably loud, even though other people are not bothered by them or don’t even notice them. It tends to be accompanied by tinnitus, or “ringing in the ears,” which might also sound like buzzing. Whereas many hearing disorders are also accompanied by hearing loss, hyperacusis tends to occur in people with otherwise normal hearing.
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Typical Symptoms of Hyperacusis

Hyperacusis can dramatically affect a person’s everyday life. People with hyperacusis may suffer complications including:

  • Pain in the ears
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Relationship difficulties
  • Social isolation and avoidance; trouble connecting with other people

Those with hyperacusis frequently complain about unbearable noise from sounds like:

  • Car engines
  • Running faucets
  • Loud conversations, like in a busy restaurant
  • Kitchen appliances (refrigerators and dishwashers)

While some people are mildly bothered by these sounds and may complain that they are annoying, others can have more severe symptoms like seizures or loss of balance.

Hyperacusis is not a problem with the ears, but with the brain. The brain exaggerates some sounds, which is what makes them so unbearable. Typically loud sounds are associated with danger, so when these benign environmental sounds are presented as loud, dangerous sounds, it can be very psychologically disorienting.

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What Causes Hyperacusis?

People are not usually born with hyperacusis, but develop it after a disease or injury. Some scenarios after which hyperacusis develops include:

  • Head injury
  • Ear damage following medication or other ototoxic substance
  • Viral infections of the facial nerve or inner ear (such as Bell’s palsy)
  • TMJ disorder
  • Lyme disease
  • Tay-Sachs disease
  • Migraine headaches
  • Regular Valium use
  • Some forms of epilepsy
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome
  • Meniere’s disease
  • PTSD
  • Depression
  • Autism
  • Surgery of the jaw or face
  • Williams syndrome

Hyperacusis can sometimes be caused by exposure to a loud sound. A single, loud gunshot, or exposure to loud sounds over a long period, can sometimes cause hyperacusis.

Diagnosis

We provide diagnosis and treatment of hyperacusis at Suncoast Audiology. We will go over your medical history with you, examine your ears, and give you a hearing test. If you think you might have hyperacusis, call us today to make an appointment.

Treatment

The treatment of hyperacusis varies with the cause. If your hyperacusis began after a head injury, it may get better on its own after some time.

If hyperacusis persists for a long time, we may suggest “sound desensitization” therapy. One of our specialists will help you retrain your brain, over time, to respond less dramatically to softer sounds. This usually involves a program of listening to quiet sounds for a period of time every day, and gradually increasing the volume to louder and louder sounds. A device is worn on the ear that plays a kind of static noise. The therapy usually takes six months to a year.

If hyperacusis is causing a great deal of stress or agitation in your life, your doctor may prescribe medicine to help you relax.

Other Remedies

Research is scant on the wide variety of treatments that may help with hyperacusis. Some patients have reported being helped by acupuncture and relaxation exercises. Audio integration therapy (AIT) is a treatment typically used for autism which involves listening to music throughout the day at different loudness levels.

Avoid Earplugs

Some patients with hyperacusis are tempted to wear earplugs throughout the day to reduce the volume of the noises they find unbearable. While this does work in the short term, it can actually make the condition more difficult. By wearing earplugs, you avoid the desensitization that comes with allowing yourself to be exposed to the noises at normal volume. When you remove the earplugs, the noises may be even more unpleasant than they were before. Consult your doctor before using earplugs as a remedy for hyperacusis.

f you think you or a loved one may be showing signs of hyperacusis, make an appointment with us today to find out what we can do to help you with the condition.

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Suncoast Audiology

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727-977-5222

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