What Is Hyperacusis and How Is It Treated?

Most people with hearing issues find the problem to be rooted in the inability to hear certain sounds and frequencies. This can make it difficult to communicate and hear crucial sounds in the immediate environment. Hyperacusis, on the other hand, is a little bit different than your typical hearing condition.

What is Hyperacusis?

Hyperacusis refers to a condition involving an abnormal and heightened sensitivity to normal, everyday sounds. Experiencing distress and discomfort with loud noises is an expected response. However, hypersensitivity to ordinary sounds is not typical and can make life uncomfortable and complicated for the affected individual. Experiencing pain and discomfort around normal noise levels can cause some people with hyperacusis to avoid social situations which may lead to social isolation and depression.

Symptoms of Hyperacusis

The most obvious and notable symptom of hyperacusis is hypersensitivity to routine sounds most others perceive as normal. Other symptoms may include:

  • General discomfort in the ears
  • Feeling of ear fullness
  • Thumping or fluttering sensations in the ears
  • Headaches
  • Trouble focusing
  • Strong reactions to abrupt sounds
  • Sleep problems
  • Anxiety
  • Social isolation
  • Depression

Causes of Hyperacusis

People with hyperacusis may experience episodes intermittently. It may be set off by a new loud noise that has lingering effects for days or even weeks. Sufferers are not generally born with the affliction, and it has been linked with several potential causes.

  • Prolonged exposure to loud noise
  • Head injuries
  • Damage to one or both ears
  • Viral infections
  • Medications
  • Autoimmune disorders
  • Temporomandibular Joint Disorder
  • Autism
  • PTSD

Does Hyperacusis mean the individual has super hearing?

The condition does come with super hearing powers, but rather a lower tolerance for sound than the average person. For example, most people can tolerate sounds up to 90 dBA without any blatant sounds of discomfort. Sounds at 70 dBA or lower are generally considered safe for the human ear. The average conversation typically registers around 60 dBA which can cause discomfort for people with hyperacusis.

Is Hyperacusis the same as Tinnitus?

While hyperacusis may be accompanied by tinnitus, the two conditions are fundamentally different. Tinnitus is generally characterized as a persistent ringing in the ears that can lead to pain and discomfort. However, the main difference is that the sounds caused by tinnitus are not audible to other people. In other words, the ringing in the ears from tinnitus is generated internally. Hyperacusis is a hypersensitive reaction to sounds in the external environment.

Do earplugs help?

Wearing earplugs may seem like a logical response to offensive external sounds. However, it seems that wearing earplugs only further exacerbates the issue. Instead of alleviating the oversensitivity to sound, the earplugs actually serve to heighten the intensity of the sound intended to be blocked.

Treatment for Hyperacusis

Hyperacusis can be difficult to treat and the treatment is often based on the underlying causes. The approach is often to manage the symptoms while reducing hearing sensitivity. If the hyperacusis has been caused by injury or infection, sound sensitivity may reduce as the injury or infection heals.

A common approach to hyperacusis treatment is through sound therapy. This method can be employed while the patient is awake or even during sleep. Sound therapy uses a technique called sound desensitization, which involves listening to quiet sounds on a daily basis with gradual volume increases until the sounds no longer cause distress and discomfort.

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