A classic symptom of the condition known as Hyperacusis is having a heightened sensitivity and reduced tolerance to normal everyday noises (sounds) in and around your natural environment. Those with Hyperacusis complain of living in a world that seems abnormally loud and uncomfortable.
There is a tendency to try and over control the exposure to external sounds by using ear plugs and ear defenders, particularly in public spaces and you may fear that your quality of life will be severely altered as a result of these sounds. Everyday sounds that most people take for granted suddenly become extremely irritating and in many cases even painful.
The most frightening and debilitating sounds are high frequency sharp noises such as loud unexpected clapping, cutlery dropping on the floor, glass smashing, high pitch screaming, road drills, various alarms and other sudden, or uncontrolled noises.
Hyperacusis can occur in people of all age groups, however It is highly unlikely that a person can be born with the condition. It’s possible that it can affect your hearing in one or both ears and symptoms can develop over a period of time or happen quite suddenly. Although tinnitus is not necessarily the cause of tinnitus and visa versa, they are frequently linked, with many tinnitus sufferers experiencing hyperacusis.
It is important to know that hyperacusis is usually treatable and isn’t necessarily going to mirror any tinnitus symptoms.
A systematic approach should be taken, usually starting with your doctor but the discussion should include any associated fears and sensitivities you may have due to the condition.
Hyperacusis is not particularly well understood in primary healthcare, so you will likely need support from a specialist with experience in this field.
An MRI scan may be recommended in order to rule out physical causes like an acoustic neuroma. This is a tumour of the acoustic nerve. It can cause ear pain, tinnitus and hyperacusis.
Unfortunately MRI scans are noisy. The sound is like a repeated banging. This can worsen hyperacusis and can clearly be upsetting for somebody with the condition. It is highly recommended to wear good ear protection.
If there is significant hearing loss with hyperacusis, a hearing aid might be necessary, but it should be one that prevents overamplification.
If you have become accustomed to isolating yourself from sounds, a consultant or therapist may encourage you to slowly and gently reintroduce sound into your life. This is a careful and managed process designed to allow you to desensitise yourself and reduce the trigger threshold and eventually resume the activities you’ve avoided. This is called sound therapy. The most commonly used sound is white noise, which effectively sounds like a rushing or “shhh” type of sound.
The T-Minus sound therapy is designed to support such a process, moving through from Series 1 ‘Environmental’, with gentle relaxing environmental sounds through to more challenging environments that we begin to find in our normal lives.
Another very worthwhile approach is the use of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). This therapy style is designed to re-establish the connections between your behaviours and their associated results. You will work with your therapist to form new methods for dealing with your hyperacusis and enable you to regain control of your auditory environment again.
There are often psychological consequences for the condition. Depression and anxiety are common as the problem can cause suffering and reduce quality of life. As a result, counselling may be required from a specialist who has experience in this area. People often go through the mill getting a diagnosis as the condition is poorly understood by many doctors. It will require a specialist with experience to diagnose the problem and It is known that Hyperacusis has better long term outcomes than tinnitus.
Some more fortunate members of the Tinnitus and wider community have reported that the condition has naturally disappeared over time.
For regularly updated information on the condition, you may wish to review the hyperacusis network: https://hyperacusis.net