One way your body offers information to you is through pain response. It’s not a very fun method but it can be effective. When your ears start to feel the pain of a very loud megaphone near you, you know damage is taking place and you can take measures to move further away or at least cover your ears.
But, despite their marginal volume, 8-10% of individuals will feel pain from low volume sounds as well. Hearing specialists refer to this condition as hyperacusis. This is the medical term for excessively 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 of the time sounds in a distinct frequency trigger episodes of hyperacusis for individuals who suffer from it. Quiet noises will often sound really loud. And noises that are loud seem a lot louder than they actually are.
Hyperacusis is commonly linked to tinnitus, hearing problems, and even neurological issues, although no one really knows what actually causes it. There’s a noticeable degree of individual variability with the symptoms, severity, and treatment of hyperacusis.
What’s a normal hyperacusis response?
In most cases, hyperacusis will look and feel something like this:
- Balance problems and dizziness can also be experienced.
- 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 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 extreme your response and pain will be.
Treatments for hyperacusis
When you have hyperacusis the world can become a minefield, particularly when your ears are overly sensitive to a wide variety of frequencies. You never know when a wonderful night out will suddenly become an audio onslaught that will leave you with ringing ears and an intense migraine.
That’s why it’s so essential to get treatment. You’ll want to come in and talk with us about which treatments will be your best option (this all tends to be quite variable). The most common options include the following.
A device called a masking device is one of the most common treatments for hyperacusis. While it may sound ideal for Halloween (sorry), in reality, a masking device is a piece of technology that cancels out specific wavelengths of sounds. So those unpleasant frequencies can be removed before they make it to your ears. You can’t have a hyperacusis episode if you can’t hear the offending sound!
A less state-of-the-art approach to this basic method is earplugs: if all sound is blocked, there’s no chance of a hyperacusis episode. It’s certainly a low-tech approach, and there are some drawbacks. There’s some research that suggests 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 considering using earplugs.
One of the most comprehensive methods of 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 react to particular types of sounds. The idea is that you can train yourself to ignore sounds (kind of like with tinnitus). Normally, this approach has a good rate of success but depends heavily on your commitment to the process.
Less prevalent solutions
There are also some less prevalent strategies for treating hyperacusis, including medications or ear tubes. Both of these strategies have met with only mixed success, so they aren’t as commonly utilized (it’ll depend on the person and the specialist).
A big difference can come from treatment
Because hyperacusis tends to vary from person to person, a unique treatment plan can be developed depending on your symptoms as you encounter them. Effectively treating hyperacusis depends on determining an approach that’s best for you.