Hyperacusis 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.
What Are the Causes of Hyperacusis?
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.
How Is Hyperacusis Treated?
Some suffering from hyperacusis might seek relief by wearing earplugs or earmuffs. While this may help in the short term, 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.
An effective treatment option is called sound desensitization, wherein a specialist works with you by exposing you 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.
If you suspect you may have hyperacusis, call Hearing Resource Center at (540) 371-1263 for more information or to schedule an appointment. A hearing specialist will conduct 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). An audiologist can also guide your treatment and counsel you about the latest hearing solutions available.