We are all bothered by the sounds of a construction site or when a neighbor is working on their lawn. But for those with a rare hearing disorder called hyperacusis, these sounds can be more than just annoying; they can be painful.
Below is a breakdown of what hyperacusis is and how audiologists can treat the condition.
What Is Hyperacusis?
Experts estimate that about one in every 50,000 adults is affected by this hearing disorder. Everyone affected experiences the condition slightly differently.
Some report that mild or moderately intense sounds seem painfully loud, while others are particularly irritated by certain sounds, such as someone chewing or a baby crying.
According to Dr. Richard Tyler, a psychoacoustician-audiologist and professor of otolaryngology and communication sciences and disorders at the University of Iowa’s Carver College of Medicine, “For some, it isn’t a major issue – they just note that specific sounds are loud or annoying. 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 take a serious emotional and psychological toll on those affected, often leading to episodes of depression, anxiety, stress and panic attacks.
What Causes Hyperacusis?
Noise exposure is the most common cause of this condition. This can be from one very loud sound such as a gunshot or fireworks, or from long term exposure, often related to your occupation. Individuals who play in a band, farm or work in manufacturing are at an increased risk of harming their hearing.
Additional causes of hyperacusis include:
- Traumatic head injury
- Lyme disease
- Meniere’s disease
- Adverse drug reaction
How Audiologists Treat Hyperacusis
While there is no cure to reverse the damage to your inner ear, there are treatment options available to make your hyperacusis more tolerable. Most experts recommend a combination of sound therapy and behavioral counseling.
This therapy focuses on changing how your nervous system reacts to sounds by gradually exposing you to triggers. You’ll be instructed to listen to a specific series of sounds for a certain amount of time per day. Over several weeks or months, the sound will be turned up. This allows your brain to get used to hearing the sounds, gradually decreasing your level of discomfort.
Hyperacusis affects both your limbic and auditory system. This hyperactivity in the system responsible for your fight or flight response can lead to an increase in feelings of anxiety and stress. Cognitive behavioral therapy can help you take control of the situation. You will learn to examine how and why you are experiencing symptoms and work on changing your pattern of thinking to reduce the psychological impact.
To learn more about hyperacusis or to schedule an appointment with an experienced audiologist, contact The Audiology Offices today.