As we age, our auditory cortex – the part of the brain that processes sound – becomes more easily overwhelmed by noise. This can lead to hearing problems and listening fatigue. Hyperacusis is a similar condition, but more severe; it is a term used to describe intense emotional responses to specific auditory stimuli.
Hyperacusis affects roughly one in 50,000 adults and presents differently in each person. Some people are affected by any sound that is moderately intense or uncomfortably loud, and others report discomfort with specific types of noise like chewing or babies crying.
“For some, it isn’t a major issue — they just note that specific sounds are loud or annoying,” explained Richard Tyler, a psychoacoustician-audiologist and professor of otolaryngology and communication sciences and disorders at the University of Iowa’s Carver College of Medicine. “Others find it difficult to live with. It impacts their everyday life to the point that it becomes highly debilitating… They cover their ears and wear earplugs all the time.”
Hyperacusis can have serious emotional and psychological impacts, including stress, anxiety, depression and panic attacks.
Causes of Hyperacusis
Hyperacusis has many potential causes, but the most common is noise exposure.
“Exposure to even one loud, intense burst of noise can set it off,” said Raymond Hull, an audiology neuroscience researcher and professor of communication sciences and disorders at Wichita State University.
It can also develop gradually, especially when there is damage to the auditory system due to aging, genetics or noise exposure. This is why hyperacusis commonly co-occurs with hearing loss and/or tinnitus.
Other possible causes of hyperacusis include traumatic head injury, Lyme disease, Meniere’s disease, adverse drug reaction, hypothyroidism and migraines.
Treatment for Hyperacusis
Many people with hyperacusis are tempted to wear earplugs or earmuffs to drown out bothersome noise, but this is not the best course of action. “Your brain becomes used to not getting sound for several weeks or months,” explained Hull. “So when you slip off the earplugs, everything is going to be much louder and you’ll be irritated to a greater degree.”
While there is no cure for hyperacusis, there are many management options. These include:
- Sound therapy
For more information about hyperacusis or to schedule an appointment with an audiologist, contact the experts at Arizona Desert ENT Specialists today.