Loud sounds are uncomfortable for everyone. But do you ever experience extreme discomfort or pain over everyday sounds like your neighbor’s dog barking, a dish breaking or a car door slamming in the The Lloyd Center parking lot? If so, you may have a condition known as hyperacusis.
What Is Hyperacusis?
Hyperacusis is defined as abnormal sensitivity to sounds. When exposed to a loud or sudden sound, even if its commonplace, a person with hyperacusis may experience:
- Pain or discomfort in the ears.
- Ear fullness.
- Sensation of thumping or fluttering.
Symptoms can range from mild to severe and can affect one or both ears.
How Common Is Hyperacusis?
While it’s unclear exactly how many people have hyperacusis, some estimates are available:
- According to the CDC, a 2014 survey found that 5.9% of Americans are sensitive to everyday sounds.
- A 2016 Swedish study found that 9-17% of the population have a problem with everyday noises.
What Are the Causes of Hyperacusis?
Hyperacusis is often the result of a phenomenon known as auditory gain, which happens when the brain ‘turns up’ the volume on regular sounds in order to compensate for damage. Underlying causes of auditory gain include:
- Noise pollution, oftentimes related to occupation.
- Head injury.
- Ototoxic medications.
- Viral infection that affects the inner nerve (like Bell’s palsy).
Comorbidities of Hyperacusis
Some people have balance problems that are exacerbated by hyperacusis, meaning they experience dizziness in response to a loud sound, possibly in addition to other symptoms. This is known as vestibular hyperacusis.
Other people experience tinnitus (ringing in the ears) when exposed to a loud sound. For many, this is their primary symptom.
Some other conditions that have been linked to hyperacusis include:
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
- Temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD).
- Lyme disease.
- Chronic fatigue syndrome.
- Meniere’s disease.
- Autism spectrum disorder.
How Is Hyperacusis Treated?
Treatment of hyperacusis often depends on the underlying cause and other comorbid conditions. For example:
- Hyperacusis caused by an injury may improve as you recover.
- For those with hyperacusis as well as hearing loss, specially-programmed hearing aids provide relief.
- Tinnitus retraining therapy (TRT), auditory integration therapy (AIT) and cognitive-behavioral therapy are helpful for many.
For more information about hyperacusis or to schedule an appointment with a hearing specialist, call Audiology Center Northwest today.