Hyperacusis: Sensitivity to Sound

Hyperacusis: What is it?

Hyperacusis is defined as an unusual intolerance to ordinary environmental sounds. Individuals with hyperacusis usually have inappropriate responses to sounds that are not bothersome to a typical person.  This differs from loudness recruitment, in which a person with hearing loss cannot tolerate moderate to loud sounds. With loudness recruitment, loud sounds are too loud. With hyperacusis, all sounds are usually too loud. Many people with hyperacusis have normal hearing sensitivity. The disorder can occur in one or both ears, and is commonly accompanied by tinnitus.

Potential Causes of Hyperacusis

Studies show that in a majority of hyperacusis cases, there may not be an underlying medical condition. However, some conditions that have been linked to hyperacusis include:

Peripheral Central
Bell’s Palsy Migraines
Ramsay-Hunt Syndrome Depression
Stapedectomy Post-traumatic   stress disorder
Perilymph fistula Head injury
Meniere’s Disease Lyme Disease
Williams syndrome

One major cause of hyperacusis is exposure to very high levels of noise, either as a single intense exposure or a long-term exposure. Use of hearing protection devices is crucial in prevention of noise induced hearing loss and hyperacusis.

What Can Be Done?

A person’s first reaction to intolerance to sounds may be to wear ear plugs or other hearing protection devices to reduce the loudness of sounds. This strategy is usually not helpful, as the person may actually be worsening their poor intolerance to relatively normal sound levels. Wearing hearing protection may provide temporary relief to a bothersome sound, but when the device is removed, the individual may be even more sensitive to sounds than they were before.

Another approach that may be more successful in helping an individual deal with hyperacusis is called sound desensitization, which is administered by a professional. For this therapy, the individual with hyperacusis will listen to barely audible white or pink noise for a set amount of time each day. Over time, the individual will build a tolerance to the sounds, and find they are no longer sensitivity to every day sounds.

If you or a loved one is experiencing unusual intolerance to sounds, please visit an ear specialist for medical evaluation.