What is hyperacusis?
Hyperacusis can be broadly defined as an increased sensitivity to normal, environmental sounds. Sufferers generally find everyday noises to be too loud, while loud noises can cause pain or discomfort. It is caused by damage to the inner ear, usually through the ageing process or through continued exposure to loud noise. Although possible to experience it in one ear only, it is most commonly found in both ears, and it is frequently associated with tinnitus, with a high percentage of hyperacusis sufferers reporting tinnitus as well.
While many people experience sensitivity to sound, true hyperacusis is rare, affecting around 1 in 50,000 people.
Symptoms of hyperacusis?
- Ordinary, everyday sounds are considered very loud
- Loud noises cause pain or distress
- The person’s own voice sounds loud or distorted
- Loud noises can worsen intolerance to sound for some time
- Tinnitus may feel worsened or louder
Causes of hyperacusis:
- Deterioration in hearing associated with the ageing process
- Exposure to one off loud noises, like a gunshot or explosion
- A slap on the ear
- Chronic noise exposure (e.g. working around heavy machinery)
- Paralysis of the facial nerve
- Certain medications
- Head injuries
How is Hyperacusis diagnosed?
There is no objective test used for diagnosing Hyperacusis, rather, an audiologist will use a battery of subjective tests to determine a person’s uncomfortable loudness levels. The audiologist will be able to tell from the results whether the person has a lower than average tolerance to sound.
Treatment of Hyperacusis:
Unfortunately, there is no specific corrective or surgical treatment for hyperacusis. For most, hyperacusis is not troublesome, and with counsel and assurance from your audiologist or medical specialist the person may be able to manage their condition successfully. For some however, this may not suffice and they may need to seek further sources of treatment. Management of hyperacusis can also be managed in the following ways:
- Reintroducing everyday sounds as soon as possible. This is a method known as desensitisation and is essentially training your brain to become more tolerant to noises that are uncomfortable to you.
- Wearing hearing protection in loud environments. This includes noise from machinery, very loud music etc. Tinnitus and hyperacusis can be exacerbated by loud noise. Wearing hearing protection is not necessary when around everyday noises.
- You can ask people to lower their voices when speaking to you.
- Tinnitus Retraining Therapy (TRT): TRT is a form of habituation therapy designed to help sufferers of tinnitus. The aim of this therapy is to effectively manage your tinnitus. There is no evidence of TRT being able to reduce or eliminate tinnitus, rather the therapy provides an ability to better cope with tinnitus. The process also helps hyperacusis sufferers as it helps reduce sensitivity to noise through a set of ‘noise generators’ that are worn on the ears like a hearing aid.
- Should you experience any anxiety associated with tinnitus or hyperacusis, talking with someone about your symptoms can be useful. Seeking advice from a counsellor or psychologist can help with developing strategies that you can use when experiencing anxiousness.
- Your GP/ENT may prescribe a short-term dosage of sleep medication if necessary.
Who can help?
- Ear, nose and throat specialist (ENT)
- Tinnitus Association of Victoria
- The Eye, Nose and Ear Hospital, Melbourne