What is Hyperacusis?
Hyperacusis is a hearing condition in which there is heightened sensitivity to sounds. It makes the normal sounds seem extremely loud. A study shows that about 8-15 percent of people have hyperacusis(1).
Hyperacusis is known to affect those people with tinnitus or ringing in the ears, males, and the elderly. It is known to occur more in the elderly as aging is associated with this condition, however, it can affect children too.
Hyperacusis makes carrying out everyday tasks difficult in a normal routine which includes chores at home and workplaces. Sometimes even the own voice seems extremely loud.
The excessive loudness may lead to pain and irritation that may cause stress. It becomes extremely difficult for people with hyperacusis to be in public settings such as work, school, or marketplaces. This may lead to:
Causes of Hyperacusis
Hyperacusis can occur due to the following reasons:
- Exposure to High Noise is a main cause of hyperacusis. This can occur gradually if a person is playing loud music for years or can occur in a single occurrence such as from a gunshot.
- Injury to the head, jaw, or ear can also be a cause of hyperacusis.
- Viral Infection affecting the facial nerves or inner ear may lead to hyperacusis.
- Jaw or Face Surgery can be another cause as during the surgery there can be damage to the inner ear or facial nerves.
- Autoimmune disorders such as systemic lupus erythematosus can lead to hyperacusis.
- Temporomandibular Joint Disorder may increase the risk of hearing issues as the temporomandibular joint attaches the jaw to the skull.
- Autism can lead to hearing impairments such as hyperacusis. According to a study, 40 percent of autistic children have hyperacusis(2).
- Emotional Stress including posttraumatic stress disorder is known to be a cause and also to increase the risk of hyperacusis.
- Medications such as cancer drugs can cause ear damage and hyperacusis.
Symptoms of Hyperacusis
The symptoms of hyperacusis can be mild, moderate, or severe.
Mild symptoms of hyperacusis include:
- Ear discomfort
- Difficulty in concentration
- Ordinary sounds seeming extremely loud
- Own voice seeming too loud
Severe symptoms of hyperacusis include:
- Poor sleep
- Fear of being out in social situations
- Popping sensation in the ear
- Pain on hearing sudden noises
In children, there may be crying or screaming due to hyperacusis.
Hyperacusis is also known to be associated with the following conditions:
How is Hyperacusis Diagnosed?
An ear nose and throat specialist should be consulted if the normal sounds seem louder than usual. He would carry out a physical examination and take the medical history of the person and point out any condition that could have affected the hearing. A pure tone audiometry test is performed. It measures hearing sensitivity.
Treatment of Hyperacusis
The treatment of hyperacusis depends on its cause. The goal is to reduce hearing sensitivity.
1. Cognitive Behavior Therapy
In cognitive behavior therapy, a mental health professional educates on the management of emotional response to sound. It helps in the management of stress that can cause hyperacusis or be a result of hyperacusis.
2. Tinnitus Retraining Therapy
Tinnitus retraining therapy helps in treating tinnitus and might also help in curing hyperacusis. It uses a small device that is similar to a hearing aid, which creates low-intensity sounds, allowing the brain to hear the noise and tinnitus. This over a period of time can help the brain reduce the emphasis on tinnitus.
3. Sound Desensitization
Sound desensitization is a technique or sound therapy in which a person wears a device in both ears and listens to soft static noise for a set period of time. This may require a help of a sound specialist. This can gradually increase the tolerance to sound. It may take long, maybe 6 months to see the result.
4. Alternative Therapies
Alternative treatments like exercise, yoga, meditation, acupuncture, or massage can help in controlling the stress and pain caused due to hyperacusis.
If all the above treatments are unsuccessful, surgery may be required. Surgery involves moving the tissue behind the ear to around the hearing bones. This provides support to the bones and reduces hypersensitivity to sounds.
If the sounds appear to you louder than usual, see a doctor, to get examined and to evaluate hearing. If hyperacusis is detected, the doctor may carry out treatment to reduce the sensitivity and address the emotional response.