What is Hyperacusis?
Hyperacusis is an increased sensitivity to normal sound levels. Having hyperacusis may make some sounds above a certain volume level seem unbearable or even painful. People are not typically born with hyperacusis, as it develops later in life suddenly or gradually over time.
Causes of Hyperacusis
Vibrations in the eardrum that cause movement of the fluid in the inner ear allow human hearing to work. This movement sends electric signals from the inner ear through the auditory nerve to the brain.
When people suffer from hyperacusis, their brain misinterprets or amplifies certain vibrations. Research into the specific causes of Hyperacusis is ongoing. However, hyperacusis is usually caused by other diseases or health related issues such as:
- Head injury or impact.
- Viral infections to the inner ear or facial nerve.
- Damage to the ear(s) from certain medications.
- Migraine headaches.
- Several diseases including Lyme disease, Meniere's disease, Tay-Sachs disease.
- Depression, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), or Anxiety.
Symptoms and Diagnosis of Hyperacusis
Symptoms of hyperacusis generally involve normal sounds being uncomfortable, startling, and/or painful. Sound levels that most people ignore or take for granted can be very difficult for someone suffering from Hyperacusis to endure. Furthermore, prolonged suffering of Hyperacusis can cause the onset of anger, anxiety, fear, or distress.
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, visit your ENT specialist. Your ENT specialist will perform a detailed analysis of your symptoms to find the cause for your hyperacusis.
Treatments for Hyperacusis
Once a diagnosis and cause have been determined, your ENT specialist will advise you on the appropriate treatment for your hyperacusis. To design a treatment plan, they may collaborate with other medical professionals such as a hearing therapist, audiologist, therapist, or psychologist.
Specific treatments will depend on the root cause of your hyperacusis. In some instances, your hyperacusis may get better without specific treatment, such as if a head or ear injury heals. However, if your hyperacusis does not improve without treatment, it is typically managed through a treatment referred to as auditory desensitization.
The purpose of auditory desensitization is to reduce the sensitivity of your hearing to improve the level of sound that you can tolerate. This is is accomplished by using small sound generators worn behind your ears in a similar fashion to hearing aids. The sound generators create varying sounds similar to static or white noise in your ears. The static noise can help to mask overwhelming sounds that you experience.
Typically, the desensitization treatment is a process that involves gradually increasing the duration and volume of the static. Once you can tolerate the normal everyday noise with the static, you can start to gradually lower the volume level and/or reduce the amount of time that they are worn.