How is Hyperacusis Treated?

Imagine you are at a summer carnival with your family. You have been looking forward to spending time with them but as you enter the carnival, the melodic sound of the rides and the excited youngsters yelling around you becomes unbearable and painful. Before you know it, you are holding your ears and running towards the exit. What is happening?

If this example sounds familiar, you may have hyperacusis. Hyperacusis refers to reduced sound tolerance to normal everyday sounds that may result in a variety of reactions from discomfort to physical pain, or even avoidance of certain situations. Sounds that would not bother or may even go unnoticed by the average listener are uncomfortable or painful for the person with hyperacusis because the whole world is turned up too loud. It is the physical characteristic of the sound (i.e. perceived loudness) that causes a reaction rather than the meaning or timing of the trigger noise. Hyperacusis occurs in approximately 25% of people with tinnitus but it can also occur on its own. It has been documented in a variety of medical conditions such as brain injury, insult to the ear, and/or other underlying neurologic conditions.

Hyperacusis can impact all aspects of life including social, occupational, and recreational activities. Since all sounds are perceived as too loud, reduced sound tolerance to environmental sounds can make even the simplest tasks, such as dining out with friends, extremely uncomfortable.

What Can Be Done for Hyperacusis?

If you suspect that you or a loved one is struggling with hyperacusis, the first step is to make an appointment with our skilled audiologists. Assessment of your hearing and Loudness Discomfort Levels (LDLs) will provide the audiologist with crucial information regarding your current hearing status.

Once hyperacusis has been identified, the audiologist will recommend various options to enrich your sound environment. While silence in coveted by most, it is not advised for the patient with hyperacusis to seclude themselves in silence. The real world is a noisy place and the sooner you are re-introduced to these sounds, the better!

Hyperacusis is managed in a variety of ways. From sound enrichment to directive counseling, the person with hyperacusis can learn to navigate the noisy world but without the same reaction as before. Consistent use of earplugs is not recommended because they muffle all sounds and trick the brain into thinking that the world is more quiet than it is in reality. If you have been using earplugs consistently, the first step will be to slowly discontinue their use while substituting other sound therapy options including ear-level sound generators. By introducing low-level sounds, it will create a buffer between your ears and the trigger sounds which ultimately makes the trigger sounds less intense.

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