Sound sensitivity, a condition also known as hyperacusis, occurs when a patient becomes hypersensitive to sounds in the environment. There are many reasons that sound sensitivity can occur. For some people, the onset of hyperacusis cannot be controlled or prevented. For others, hyperacusis occurs because of environmental factors that can be stopped or controlled, with the right tools. Knowing the causes of sound sensitivity and how you can protect your ears can help you avoid this condition. Sound sensitivity is discouraging and can reduce your quality of life, so it’s important to practice prevention.
1. Exposure a Sudden Loud Noise
Sudden exposure to a very loud noise, like a firecracker or a gunshot, can do damage to the inner ear. Sometimes this damage is permanent and other times it lasts only a brief while. If you were exposed to a loud noise and later experienced hyperacusis as a result, talk to an audiologist, who may be able to help create management strategies to reduce the impact of hyperacusis.
Most people who are exposed to sudden loud noises have no way of knowing that the loud noise is coming and therefore have no way to protect themselves from that loud noise. However, if you are engaged in an activity that could result in sudden exposure to loud noise (like, detonating firecrackers, for example), protect your hearing by wearing ear protection.
2. Traumatic Event
Traumatic events that lead to conditions like PTSD can also cause hyperacusis. This occurs because of a brain processing issue that can develop because of PTSD. People with this problem process noises differently, and perceive noises of a normal volume to be amplified.
Counseling and sound therapy can help patients experiencing hyperacusis to re-adjust to noises and learn to accept sounds in the environment without experiencing fear or distraction. If you suffer from PTSD, talk to your audiologist for sound therapy and speak to a counselor to treat your PTSD.
3. Long-Term Exposure to Loud Noises
Long-term exposure to loud noises has long been known to cause a variety of hearing problems including tinnitus, hearing loss and hyperacusis. For people who are exposed to loud noises, whether because of their job or because of sounds in their environment at home, it’s very important to wear ear protection.
OSHA requires employers to provide their employees with sufficient ear protection to prevent damage to the ears. However, not all employers follow the rules or are aware of their obligation to their employees. In addition, not all people know which sounds in the environment can damage their ears. ‘
Sounds at or below 70 dBA are generally considered safe, while prolonged exposure to noise levels at or above 85 dBA are generally considered harmful to the ears. How loud is 85 dBA? The sound of a lawn mower occurs between 80 and 100 dBA.
4. Head Injury
Head injuries like traumatic brain injury can cause hyperacusis. Head injuries can damage the inner parts of the ear and may also damage the nerve that carries sound from your ear to your brain. If you experience hyperacusis after a head injury, see your physician and then an audiologist.
A note about head injury and hyperacusis: Head injuries often cause tinnitus as well as hyperacusis. People with tinnitus hear a noise no one else can hear, often a whine or a whooshing noise. Tinnitus can make hearing difficult. People who suffer from tinnitus often have a hard time processing noises in their environment, or following conversations – even if they also suffer from hyper sensitive hearing.
Wearing a hearing aid can help. It may sound counter-intuitive, but wearing a hearing aid can amplify sounds in the environment so they are louder than the tinnitus. This makes it easier to have conversations. Some people who suffer from hyperacusis and tinnitus simultaneously worry about wearing hearing aids. Understandably, they often express concern that the hearing aids will make the noises in the environment uncomfortably loud. If you suffer from hyperacusis and tinnitus, you can solve this problem by configuring your hearing aids to amplify noises only to the point that they are comfortable, and not any more.
5. Drugs and Toxins
Some drugs and toxins are known to affect the ears and auditory nerves, thus leading to hyperacusis. If you are taking a drug or medication that is causing hyperacusis, your audiologist should be able to determine the cause of your condition if you’re honest about the medicines and drugs in your system.
Be fully honest and up front with your audiologist during your appointment. This will help your audiologist determine the possible cause of your hyperacusis. Often, stopping the medication or drug that is responsible for the hyperacusis will stop the sensitivity to sound. Your audiologist will recommend that you work with your primary care physician or other specialist who will help you find an alternative medication that will accomplish whatever goals need to be accomplished while also protecting and preserving your hearing.
Headaches can make sound seem unmanageable. Headaches can happen for a variety of reasons. Migraine headaches in particular can increase your sensitivity to sound. If you have been experiencing sensitivity to sound as the result of your migraine headaches, work with your physician to determine the potential cause of your migraines and explore solutions as needed.
Migraines can occur because of a variety of triggers in the environment, like weather changes, or because of triggers within the body, like changes in hormones. Sensitivity to sound only occurs while the migraine is taking place, so you can control the sensitivity to sound by controlling the migraine itself.
7. Autoimmune Diseases
A variety of autoimmune disorders can cause hyperacusis. Only by treating the disorder can you treat the sensitivity to sound. Talk to your physician to get a diagnosis and treatment. Your physician may refer you to an audiologist and may recommend sound therapy, if your condition is permanent and if you also experience problems like tinnitus as a result of your autoimmune disorder.
Whatever the cause of your sensitivity to sound, work with your physician to either treat your condition or to help you learn to live with your condition. If you also suffer from tinnitus at the same time, have your physician help you choose a hearing aid that can help you learn to hear and process sounds, so you can effectively navigate everyday situations like conversations.
1. WebMD, Hyperacusis – https://www.webmd.com/brain/sound-sensitivity-hyperacusis#1
2. PTSDUK.org, Hyperacusis and PTSD – https://www.ptsduk.org/hyperacusis-and-ptsd/#:~:text=Often%20too%2C%20for%20those%20with,or%20can%20trigger%20a%20flashback.
3. NIH, Do You Know How Loud Is Too Loud? – https://www.nidcd.nih.gov/news/2020/do-you-know-how-loud-too-loud
4. NIH, Too Loud, Too Long – https://www.noisyplanet.nidcd.nih.gov/parents/too-loud-too-long#:~:text=Sounds%20at%20or%20below%2070,greater%20risk%20for%20hearing%20loss.
5. Mayoclinic.org, Migraine – https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/migraine-headache/symptoms-causes/syc-20360201