Hyperacusis is a rare condition that affects one in 50,000 people, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. It causes sound sensitivity and can impact your daily life in many detrimental ways. Everything sounds louder than it is, making everyday tasks seem impossible.
If you have ever asked, “why are my ears sensitive to sound?” this guide about hyperacusis, its symptoms, and its treatments could be for you.
What Is Hyperacusis?
Hyperacusis is a disorder that affects how you perceive loudness. People with this condition have a low tolerance for sounds in one ear or in both. It is not necessarily a hearing problem since most people with this kind of sound sensitivity have no trouble hearing. For most people, it points to a malfunction of how the brain interprets sound waves.
Someone with this condition has a brain that confuses or exaggerates sound vibrations. The person receives the same signals as others, but their brains react differently to those signals.
Some risk factors that can make it likelier to develop this condition include:
- Being male
- Having tinnitus
- Being older
This condition can make it difficult for people to participate in social activities and can also impact their work life.
What Are the Common Symptoms of Hyperacusis?
Hyperacusis symptoms can vary, but the most obvious one is the inability to tolerate normal sounds in your everyday environment. Mild symptoms include:
- Ordinary sounds are too loud
- Your voice is too loud
- Discomfort in your ears
- Trouble concentrating
For people with more severe versions of this condition, there may be other symptoms, like ear pain when hearing a loud noise. Some people even experience popping noises. There can be psychological impacts that come with this condition, including depression, isolation, and anxiety. Many who have hyperacusis have trouble sleeping and experience chronic fatigue.
What Causes Hyperacusis?
People generally develop hyperacusis, with very rare cases occurring from birth. There are many reasons why someone may develop the condition. One of the most common reasons, however, is nerve damage.
The 8th nerve connects the ear and the brain, sending information to the brain during the hearing process. When nerve damage occurs to the 8th nerve, there can be a malfunction in how you perceive loudness, leading to hyperacusis.
Damage to this nerve can occur during an infection or as a result of microvascular compression syndrome. Microvascular compression syndrome is a condition in which the individual cranial nerves have functional disturbances.
Some tests can help experts diagnose whether you have hyperacusis or not. There can be a physical examination to determine if there is physical damage, and the specialist will get your full medical history to see if there are any conditions that may have caused the hyperacusis. Let them know of any medications you take since they may also have an impact.
They may also perform a pure-tone audiometry, which measures your sensitivity to calibrated pure tones.
What Is the Best Treatment for Hyperacusis?
One hyperacusis treatment that works well for someone who has the condition because of nerve damage is surgery. A round and oval window reinforcement surgery works by moving the tissue behind the ears and placing it around the hearing bones. This tissue helps support the bones while also reducing the extreme sound sensitivity.
Another option that may help is tinnitus retraining therapy (TRT). Although it is a treatment for tinnitus, it can offer some help for hyperacusis. TRT uses a device that is a bit like a hearing aid. It creates sounds, allowing your brain to respond to them. With time, you can train your brain to reduce that response.
Sound desensitization is another treatment option for people with hyperacusis. During this treatment, you listen to soft static noise for a certain amount of time each day. This routine will help desensitize you, increasing your tolerance for noise.
Although it can seem like the best thing to do is to stay away from noise, isolating yourself can actually make the noise sensitivity worse.
Turn to Experts for Help with Hyperacusis
If you find that you have a low tolerance for regular sounds or even feel pain and discomfort as a response to noise, you may have hyperacusis. Hyperacusis can be distressing, but there are treatments out there that can help. By reaching out to experts, you can start your path towards getting the relief from hyperacusis you need. Happy Ears Hearing Center has locations in Mesa, Surprise, and Peoria, AZ. Schedule an appointment with an audiologist for an examination.