Hyperacusis, simply put, is a heightened sensitivity to everyday sounds that most people can tolerate easily. A person suffering from hyperacusis may find sounds like a running dishwasher, a nearby conversation or even the shuffling of papers unpleasantly loud or even painful. For some, the sensitivity is only to certain frequencies or pitches.
Hyperacusis is rare, affecting only one in 50,000 people. This number is higher among tinnitus sufferers, however, affecting about one in 1,000. Hyperacusis can affect people of any age, and it can occur in one or both ears. Untreated hyperacusis can cause social isolation, phonophobia (fear of sounds), depression and more.
It is extremely uncommon for someone to be born with hyperacusis. Hyperacusis can be caused by a number of diseases including Bell’s palsy, Lyme disease, Meniere’s disease, head injury, temporomandibular joint (TMJ) syndrome and noise induced hearing loss. Hyperacusis is also linked with neurologic conditions such as PTSD, epilepsy, depression, migraines, cerebral palsy and autism.
For those whose hyperacusis is the result of trauma to the head or hearing system, symptoms may go away as the injury heals. Identifying the underlying cause is always the first step in treating hyperacusis.
Some suffering from hyperacusis may seek relief by wearing earplugs or earmuffs. While this may help in the short-term, in some it actually decreases the already poor tolerance of noise, increasing sensitivity in the long run. This result is most obvious immediately after removing the ear protection.
For some patients sound desensitization has been reported to help. The patient is exposed to white noise at initially a very low volume, increasing it over time to improve tolerance. This treatment may take six months to a year, and maybe even longer for certain patients.
Those who suspect they may have hyperacusis should seek an evaluation by an audiologist for a full audiologic evaluation, including a hearing test, and take a record of your medical history to accurately diagnose your condition and determine your Loudness Discomfort Levels (LDL). Valuable information may be obtained from the nonprofit group, Hyperacusis Research, at www.hyperacusisresearch.org.
Dr. Andrea Livingston is one of Highlands County’s premier audiologists and is committed to providing compassionate, personalized patient care.