If you have difficulty tolerating everyday sounds, you may suffer from hyperacusis. Hyperacusis is a hearing disorder that causes sounds which would otherwise seem normal to most people to sound unbearably loud. This condition is characterized as an increased sensitivity to normal environmental sounds; however, it is not discomfort around loud sounds. Loud sounds, such as dishes clanking, glass breaking, alarms, car engines and a loud conversation, can be unbearable for those who suffer with hyperacusis. It can vary in its severity, from being a mild inconvenience to a life-changing condition. For those that suffer with hyperacusis, you may experience a physical pain in your ear, a feeling of fullness, and tinnitus. Some could be mildly bothered by these sounds, and others could have more severe symptoms such as loss of balance or seizures. Many people who suffer from this rare disorder have normal hearing. The Hyperacusis Network reports that 1 in 50,000 people has hyperacusis and that 1 in 1,000 people who have tinnitus will also have hyperacusis.
Hyperacusis affects those of all ages. It can impact your hearing in one or both ears and is often accompanied by tinnitus. Hyperacusis is not something you are typically born with and can develop over a period of time or occur quite suddenly. It can occur following a single impact (loud gunshot) or an extensive history of loud noise exposure (railroad, heavy equipment/machinery, etc.)
There are some diseases or disorders that are linked to hyperacusis:
Chronic fatigue syndrome
Posttraumatic stress disorder
Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder
Exposure to loud noise
Air bag deployment
Ear damage due to toxins or medication
Currently there is not a cure to rapidly eliminate hyperacusis. Therapies can help those that suffer with hyperacusis cope with the unbearable and uncomfortable sounds and reduce their sensitivity to sounds as well as help improve their quality of life by reducing the anxiety and fear they experience. Many want to wear earplugs or ear muffs to get by in their everyday life reducing incoming sound levels; however, they may experience increased sensitivity to sound when the ear plugs are removed making the environment even louder than it might have been otherwise.
Sound desensitization is a treatment for some where a barely audible static noise is listened to for a set period of time each day. Over 6 months to a year the tolerance to sound is built up, and the goal is sensitivity to normal sounds is no longer painful.
We are unsure why hyperacusis occurs; however, theories include: a malfunction of the ear’s protective hearing mechanisms, damage to a portion of the auditory nerve, a problem with the central processing system, or a malfunction of the facial nerve. If you find that the whole world’s volume is unbearably loud and entirely painful, you may want to see an Audiologist to be evaluated.