Pain is your body’s way of supplying information. It’s not a very fun approach but it can be beneficial. When that megaphone you’re standing next to gets too loud, the pain lets you know that major ear damage is happening and you instantly (if you’re wise) cover your ears or remove yourself from that extremely loud environment.
But, despite their minimal volume, 8-10% of people will feel pain from quiet sounds too. Hearing specialists refer to this condition as hyperacusis. This is the medical name for overly sensitive ears. There’s no cure for hyperacusis, but there are treatments that can help you get a handle on your symptoms.
Heightened sound sensitivity
Hypersensitivity to sound is known as hyperacusis. Most people with hyperacusis have episodes that are triggered by a particular set of sounds (commonly sounds within a frequency range). Quiet noises will frequently sound very loud. And noises that are loud seem a lot louder than they are.
Hyperacusis is frequently linked to tinnitus, hearing trouble, and even neurological difficulties, though no one really knows what actually causes it. There’s a noticeable degree of personal variability with the symptoms, severity, and treatment of hyperacusis.
What’s a normal hyperacusis response?
In most cases, hyperacusis will look and feel something like this:
- Your response and pain will be worse the louder the sound is.
- You may experience pain and buzzing in your ears (this pain and buzzing could last for days or weeks after you hear the original sound).
- Balance problems and dizziness can also be experienced.
- You will hear a specific sound, a sound that everybody else perceives as quiet, and that sound will sound very loud to you.
Treatments for hyperacusis
When you have hyperacusis the world can be a minefield, particularly when your ears are very sensitive to a wide range of frequencies. Your hearing could be assaulted and you could be left with a terrible headache and ringing ears anytime you go out.
That’s why treatment is so essential. You’ll want to come in and speak with us about which treatments will be your best option (this all tends to be rather variable). The most common options include the following.
A device called a masking device is one of the most common treatments for hyperacusis. While it may sound perfect for Halloween (sorry), actually though, a masking device is a piece of technology that cancels out certain wavelengths of sounds. These devices, then, can selectively hide those triggering wavelengths of sound before they ever get to your ear. You can’t have a hyperacusis episode if you can’t hear the triggering sound!
Earplugs are a less state-of-the-art play on the same general approach: you can’t have a hyperacusis event if you’re unable to hear… well, anything. It’s definitely a low-tech strategy, and there are some drawbacks. 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 thinking about using earplugs, call us for a consultation.
An strategy, called ear retraining therapy, is one of the most extensive hyperacusis treatments. You’ll use a mix of devices, physical therapy, and emotional counseling to try to change the way you react to certain types of sounds. Training yourself to ignore sounds is the basic idea. Generally, this approach has a good success rate but depends a great deal on your dedication to the process.
Strategies that are less prevalent
There are also some less common approaches for managing hyperacusis, such as medications or ear tubes. Both of these approaches have met with only mixed success, so they aren’t as commonly utilized (it’ll depend on the person and the specialist).
Treatment makes a huge difference
Because hyperacusis tends to differ from person to person, a specialized treatment plan can be formulated depending on your symptoms as you experience them. There’s no one best approach to managing hyperacusis, it really depends on finding the best treatment for you.