Hyperacusis: A Hearing Disorder

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Are you sensitive to loud noises? Is it so bad that you are sometimes sensitive to the everyday sounds in your environment? Then you may have a hearing disorder referred to as hyperacusis. In this article, we’re going to take a brief look at Hyperacusis and how it may affect you.

What Is Hyperacusis?

Simply put, hyperacusis is a reduced tolerance and increased sensitivity to the everyday noises that you hear in your environment. People who have the disorder describe it in this way: “The world that I live in has the volume turned up way too high.” Those simple noises that other people just ignore will cause those with hyperacusis to become irritated. In the worst cases, these noises can be painful.

Those who suffer from hyperacusis have a lower quality of life due to the disorder. They may wear earmuffs or earplugs while they are out in public so that they have a better control on the noise around them. In the most severe cases of hyperacusis, people may avoid stepping out of their home to protect themselves. This makes it difficult for any loved ones, caretakers, or medical professionals to be able to understand and help them.

The disorder can come on suddenly or take an extended period of time to develop. Many times, it will start in one ear and then end up becoming bilateral (in both ears). The severity can differ depending on a number of factors. Many people who have hypercusis also have tinnitus (ringing of the ears).

Common Causes Of Hyperacusis

There are several reasons that someone may end up developing hyperacusis. Here are some of the most common:

– Hearing loss in one or both ears.

– Noise injury in one or both ears.

– Head injury, such as a concussion.

– Whiplash injury or another similar neck or spinal injury.

– Acoustic trauma, like that associated with an airbag exploding or a gun being shot.

– Medication or surgery complications, especially if the medication or surgery dealt with the nervous system in any way.

– Chronic ear infections that resulted in ear damage.

– Auto immune disorders

How Is Hyperacusis Diagnosed?

Hyperacusis can be diagnosed in a couple of ways, but it is difficult due to the fact that you cannot truly “see” the issue like a broken bone or other similar issues. Many audiologists will diagnose the disorder by looking at the case history of their patient first. Then they will perform a full physical test to determine any hearing loss followed by an LDL test.

The LDL test is a loudness discomfort test which will give the patient a variety of tones at different dB’s. Most human ears fall at 90dB or greater at various frequencies, but those with hyperacusis will fall much lower. The audiologist will then look at all the data in context with the medical history and exam to determine whether the patient has hyperacusis or some other hearing disorder.

How Is Hyperacusis Treated?

Treatment for hyperacusis will vary depending on the severity of the disorder and the audiologist’s approach. In some cases, it may just be left alone. Currently, there is no standard surgical or medical approach that is used for treating hyperacusis. Many of the treatments and therapies that are used at this time are aimed at helping the patient feel more comfortable and less anxious. These may include what are called retraining and acoustic therapies.

Acoustic therapy uses the sound of music or noise that is constantly played in the ears through a system that is worn on the body or through a device that looks like a hearing aid. These devices play gentle sounds that are meant to desensitize the brain. This is just a theory. However, it’s believed that if the auditory nerves and brain centers become desensitized, the person suffering from hyperacusis will be able to tolerate normal, everyday sounds once again.

Retraining therapies, on the other hand, involve a combination of counseling and the acoustic therapy that we just described. The counseling is meant to address the patient’s anxieties and fears that are related to the disorder. The counselor can help them to cope and redirect any negative feelings that they have toward normal, everyday noises.

Talk to your general physician or an audiologist if you suspect that you have hyperacusis or other hearing problems. They have the tools and knowledge necessary to help diagnose and treat hyperacusis or any other issue that you may have with your ears.

Last Updated 15 Sep 2013

Useful References

1. British Tinnitus Association (Accessed 15 Sep 2013)

2. UCSF Medical Centre (Accessed 15 Sep 2o13)

3. US National Library of Medicine (Accessed 15 Sep 2013)

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