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What is Hyperacusis and How Can You Treat It?

woman in moderate head pain from loud noises

Hyperacusis is a condition that results in an increased sensitivity to certain sounds. People with hyperacusis may find ordinary sounds to be excessively loud, irritating, and even painful. While the underlying cause of hyperacusis is not fully understood, it is thought to involve changes in the way that the brain processes sound. There is no cure for hyperacusis, but there are treatments that can help lessen its effects.

Hyperacusis vs. Tinnitus

It is important to note that hyperacusis is different from tinnitus, which is the perception of sound in the absence of an external noise source. Tinnitus can be a symptom of hyperacusis, but many people with hyperacusis do not have tinnitus.

How Does the Brain Process Sound?

The brain processes sound in a number of ways, including by distinguishing between different pitches and volumes, identifying the location of a sound, and deciphering the meaning of words and sentences. The brain also processes sound in the context of what it knows about the world. For example, when you hear a dog bark, your brain understands that the sound is coming from a dog and not a cat. The brain also relies on memories of past sounds to help it understand new ones.

What Causes Hyperacusis?

The underlying cause of hyperacusis is not fully understood, but it is thought to involve changes in the way that the brain processes sound. 

Some possible causes of hyperacusis include:

  • Damage to the ear caused by infection, injury, or exposure to loud noise
  • Problems with the inner ear, such as Meniere’s disease
  • A neurological disorder, such as multiple sclerosis or autism
  • Psychological conditions, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or anxiety disorders

Typical Symptoms of Hyperacusis

People with hyperacusis may experience a range of symptoms, depending on the severity of their condition. 

Some common symptoms of hyperacusis include:

  • An increased sensitivity to certain sounds
  • Feeling that a sound is too loud, irritating, or painful
  • Difficulty tolerating everyday noises, such as voices, laughter, traffic, or dishwashers
  • Needing to wear earplugs or headphones for protection from noise
  • Withdrawing from social situations in order to avoid exposure to loud noise

There is no cure for hyperacusis, but there are treatments that can help lessen its effects. Treatment options vary depending on the cause of hyperacusis. If the cause is unknown or cannot be treated, treatment focuses on managing the symptoms of hyperacusis. For mild and moderate loudness hyperacusis hearing aids may be an effective solution in combatting the severity of sounds. These devices will be equipped with reduction features to help soften sounds that cause discomfort.

Depending on what your aesthetic and health needs are, you may choose from one of the following common hearing aid styles:

  • Behind the ear (BTE)
  • In the ear (ITE)
  • In the canal (ITC)
  • Completely in canal (CIC)
  • Invisible in canal (IIC)

Are There Other Treatment Options?

While hearing aids are commonly recommended to relieve the impacts of hyperacusis, there are additional treatments available, including:

  • Sound therapy: This involves listening to low-volume sounds that are specifically tailored to help relieve symptoms of hyperacusis.
  • Counseling or therapy: Psychological conditions, such as PTSD or anxiety disorders, can often worsen symptoms of hyperacusis; counseling or therapy may be helpful in managing these conditions.
  • Medications: Medications that can help treat hyperacusis include anti-anxiety drugs and antidepressants, but this should be discussed with a physician.
  • Surgery: In rare cases, surgery may be necessary to treat the underlying cause of hyperacusis.

If you suspect you or your loved one is coping with hyperacusis, it is important to see an audiologist for an evaluation. They can determine the underlying cause of your condition and recommend the best treatment option for you.

Contact an Audiologist to Get the Treatment You Deserve

If you are experiencing symptoms of hyperacusis, an audiologist can help you determine the cause of your condition and recommend the appropriate treatment. Audiologists have special training in the assessment and treatment of hearing-related disorders and can provide you with tailored sound therapy to help relieve your symptoms.

Hear for You Hearing & Balance Center is a full-service audiology and hearing healthcare clinic, providing diagnostic evaluations and treatments for all types of hearing loss. We also offer tinnitus treatment, balance assessments, and custom ear protection. We work with patients of all ages, including children and seniors. Schedule an appointment today to get started on improving your hearing health by calling 401-475-6116.