Hyperacusis

What Is Hyperacusis?

Hyperacusis is a hearing disorder that makes it hard to deal with everyday sounds. You might also hear it called sound or noise sensitivity. If you have it, certain sounds may seem unbearably loud even though people around you don't seem to notice them.

Hyperacusis is rare. It affects 1 in 50,000 people. Most people who have it also have another condition called tinnitus, which is a buzzing or ringing in your ear.

Hyperacusis is a hearing disorder. But a lot of people who have it also have normal hearing.

Symptoms of Hyperacusis

The symptoms of hyperacusis can affect your everyday life and include:

Some sounds that might seem louder than they should include:

  • A running faucet
  • A kitchen appliance, like a refrigerator or dishwasher
  • A car engine
  • A loud conversation

Some people are only mildly bothered by these sounds. Others have severe symptoms such as a loss of balance or seizures.

Hyperacusis Causes and Risk Factors

Your ears detect sounds as vibrations. If you have hyperacusis, your brain confuses or exaggerates certain vibrations. So even if you get the same signals as someone else, your brain reacts differently to them. That's what causes the discomfort.

People aren't typically born with hyperacusis. It usually results from certain diseases or health issues. The most common ones are:

Being around a loud noise also can cause hyperacusis. Something like a single loud gunshot can trigger the condition. But it also can come from being near loud noises over a long period.

Hyperacusis Diagnosis

If you think you have hyperacusis, you'll see an ear, nose, and throat doctor (ENT, or otolaryngologist). They'll ask about your medical history, look closely at your ears, and give you a hearing test to confirm it.

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Hyperacusis Treatment and Home Remedies

Treatment will depend on what caused it. In some cases, like with injuries to your brain or ear, the sound sensitivity might get better on its own.

If it doesn't, the doctor might suggest something called sound desensitization. You'll work with a specialist who’ll help you learn to deal with sound. You'll listen to very quiet noises for a certain period every day and build up gradually to louder sounds.

Most of the time, you’ll wear a device on your affected ear or on both ears. It puts out a sound like static, so it shouldn't bother you or cause pain. It can take 6 months to a year or more to get the full benefit of the therapy.

There hasn't been enough research done on other hyperacusis treatments to know if they're helpful. These include acupuncture and relaxation exercises. Another option, auditory integration therapy (AIT), is often used in autism treatment. It involves listening to music at different volumes for a period of time every day.

Your doctor also may give you medicine to help you manage the stress the condition can cause.

If you have hyperacusis, you might be tempted to use earplugs to muffle sound or stay away from social situations where there might be sounds that bother you. While these can give you short-term relief, they can, over the long term, make your symptoms worse. That's because when you eventually remove your earplugs or go into a social setting, the sounds can seem even louder.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Neha Pathak, MD on August 25, 2020

Sources

SOURCES:

American Academy of Otolaryngology: "Hyperacusis: An Increased Sensitivity to Everyday Sounds."

American Speech-Language-Hearing Association: "Hyperacusis," “Tinnitus and Hyperacusis.”

Vestibular Disorders Associations: "Vestibular Hyperacusis."

National Health Service (U.K.): “Noise sensitivity (hyperacusis).”

UCSF Health: “Hyperacusis.”

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