Pain is your body’s method of giving you information. It’s an effective strategy though not a really enjoyable one. When your ears begin to feel the pain of a very loud megaphone next to you, you know damage is taking place and you can take steps to move further away or at least cover your ears.
But, in spite of their minimal volume, 8-10% of individuals will feel pain from low volume sounds as well. This condition is known by experts as hyperacusis. This is the medical term for excessively sensitive ears. There’s no cure for hyperacusis, but there are treatments that can help you get a handle on your symptoms.
Elevated sensitivity to sound
Hyperacusis is a hypersensitivity to sound. Most individuals with hyperacusis have episodes that are activated by a specific group of sounds (commonly sounds within a range of frequencies). Quiet noises will frequently sound very loud. And loud noises sound even louder.
No one’s quite certain what causes hyperacusis, though it’s often related to tinnitus or other hearing issues (and, in some situations, neurological issues). There’s a noticeable degree of personal variability when it comes to the symptoms, severity, and treatment of hyperacusis.
What’s a normal hyperacusis response?
Here’s how hyperacusis, in most situations, will look and feel::
- The louder the sound is, the more intense your response and discomfort will be.
- You may notice pain and buzzing in your ears (this pain and buzzing could last for days or weeks after you hear the original sound).
- You might also have dizziness and difficulty keeping your balance.
- Everyone else will think a specific sound is quiet but it will sound very loud to you.
Treatments for hyperacusis
When you have hyperacusis the world can be a minefield, especially when your ears are overly sensitive to a wide assortment of frequencies. You never know when a wonderful night out will suddenly turn into an audio onslaught that will leave you with ringing ears and an intense migraine.
That’s why it’s so crucial to get treatment. There are various treatments available depending on your specific situation and we can help you pick one that’s best for you. The most common options include the following.
One of the most frequently implemented treatments for hyperacusis is something called a masking device. While it might sound perfect for Halloween (sorry), in reality, a masking device is a piece of technology that cancels out select wavelengths of sounds. So those unpleasant frequencies can be removed before they make it to your ears. If you can’t hear the offending sound, you won’t have a hyperacusis episode.
Earplugs are a less state-of-the-art take on the same basic approach: you can’t have a hyperacusis event if you can’t hear… well, anything. There are undoubtedly some disadvantages to this low tech approach. There’s some evidence to suggest that, over the long run, the earplugs can throw your hearing ecosystem even further out of whack and make your hyperacusis worse. If you’re considering using earplugs, contact us for a consultation.
One of the most thorough approaches to treating hyperacusis is known as ear retraining therapy. You’ll use a mix of devices, physical therapy, and emotional therapy to try to change how you react to particular kinds of sounds. The concept is that you can train yourself to disregard sounds (kind of like with tinnitus). This strategy depends on your dedication but usually has a positive rate of success.
Less prevalent strategies
Less common methods, including ear tubes or medication, are also used to treat hyperacusis. Both of these strategies have met with only varying success, so they aren’t as commonly used (it’ll depend on the person and the specialist).
Treatment makes a huge difference
Because hyperacusis tends to differ from person to person, an individual treatment plan can be formulated depending on your symptoms as you experience them. Effectively treating hyperacusis depends on determining an approach that’s best for you.