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What is hyperacusis? Discover the causes, symptoms and treatment

Kimberley Bradshaw - Head of Marketing
Written By:
Kimberley Bradshaw

Head of Customer Content Experience

Paul Harrison Hearing Aid UK Founder & Audiologist
Medically Reviewed By:
Paul Harrison

Audiology Expert & Founder

Updated: 18th October 2023
What is Hyperacusis?

What is Hyperacusis?

Discover the causes, symptoms and treatment

 

Hyperacusis definition

Hyperacusis is a condition characterised by an increased sensitivity to certain sounds. People with hyperacusis may find that certain sounds that are normally tolerable can become very uncomfortable or even painful.

For example, common sounds like the sound of a vacuum cleaner, traffic noise, or even the sound of a person's own voice can be intolerable.  This article's aim is to explore the causes, symptoms, treatments and whether there is a cure for this invisible condition.

 

Hyperacusis causes and hyperacusis symptoms

What causes hyperacusis?  Hyperacusis can affect people of all ages and can occur in one or both ears. It can be caused by a variety of factors, including exposure to loud noise, head injury, certain medications and ear disorders.

What are the symptoms of hyperacusis?  The symptoms of hyperacusis can vary from person to person, but may include ear pain, discomfort, or ringing in the ears (tinnitus), a feeling of fullness or pressure in the ears and an increased sensitivity to certain sounds.  Below is a breakdown of the common symptoms of hyperacusis:

 

  • Discomfort or pain in response to everyday sounds that are not normally perceived as loud or painful, such as the sound of a vacuum cleaner, dishwasher or a car engine.
  • A feeling of fullness or pressure in the ears.
  • Tinnitus, which is a ringing, buzzing or humming sound in the ears that are not caused by an external sound.
  • A feeling of discomfort or irritation in response to certain sounds, such as those made by people chewing or swallowing.
  • Anxiety, stress or social withdrawal related to the discomfort caused by hyperacusis symptoms.
  • Headaches or migraines in response to certain sounds.
  • Fatigue or exhaustion related to the effort required to filter out unwanted sounds.

 

Hyperacusis treatment

How is hyperacusis treated?  Hyperacusis can be a challenging condition to treat, and the best approach will depend on the individual's specific symptoms and causes.  Along with an audiologist, you can develop a treatment plan that is tailored to your specific symptoms and needs.

Here is a breakdown of some common treatments how to treat hyperacusis that may be recommended:

 

  • Sound therapy: Sound therapy involves the use of white noise or other soothing sounds to help desensitise the ear to certain sounds. This can involve the use of devices such as white noise machines, hearing aids or even smartphone apps that play soothing sounds.
  • Hyperacusis and anxiety: Counselling may be helpful for people with hyperacusis who are experiencing anxiety, depression or other emotional issues related to their condition. A therapist can help individuals cope with the emotional and psychological effects of hyperacusis.
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): CBT is a type of therapy that can help people with hyperacusis change their negative thought patterns and behaviors related to sound sensitivity. CBT can be especially helpful for people who are experiencing anxiety or depression related to their condition.
  • Lifestyle modifications: Making lifestyle changes such as avoiding loud noises, wearing earplugs or earmuffs when in noisy environments and reducing stress levels can also be helpful in managing hyperacusis symptoms.
  • Medications: Some medications may be helpful in managing hyperacusis symptoms, such as anti-anxiety medications or antidepressants. However, these medications should only be used under the guidance of a healthcare professional.
  • Tinnitus and hyperacusis:  Tinnitus Retraining Therapy (TRT) is a type of therapy that involves the use of sound therapy and counselling to help retrain the brain to perceive sound differently. TRT can be helpful for people with hyperacusis who are also experiencing tinnitus (ringing in the ears).

 

Hyperacusis and hearing loss

What is hyperacusis?

Hyperacusis and hearing loss

 

Are there links between hyperacusis and hearing loss?

Hyperacusis and hearing loss are two different conditions that can sometimes occur together. Hyperacusis is a condition where a person experiences an increased sensitivity to certain sounds, while hearing loss is a condition where a person has difficulty hearing certain sounds.

However, it is possible for a person to have both hyperacusis and hearing loss at the same time. In some cases, hearing loss can lead to hyperacusis because the brain becomes more sensitive to certain sounds as it tries to compensate for the hearing loss. 

In other cases, hyperacusis can cause hearing loss. If a person with hyperacusis avoids certain sounds because they are uncomfortable or painful, they may be depriving their ears of important auditory stimulation. Over time, this can lead to a decreased ability to hear certain sounds.

 

Hyperacusis and hearing aids

Treatment for both hyperacusis and hearing loss will depend on the specific symptoms and causes of each condition. If you suspect that you have either condition, you will need to see an audiologist for a professional diagnosis and treatment plan.

If you are considering hearing aids, you need to work with an experienced audiologist who can guide them through the process. They may recommend hearing aids that have advanced features, such as frequency compression or sound shaping, that can help to reduce the discomfort associated with certain sounds.

Additionally, the audiologist may recommend a gradual approach to using hearing aids for people with hyperacusis. This may involve starting with very low amplification levels and gradually increasing the volume over time as the person becomes accustomed to the new sounds.

 

Hearing aids aren't for everyone with hyperacusis

For some individuals with hyperacusis and hearing loss, hearing aids may be a helpful treatment option. However, hearing aids are not always recommended for people with hyperacusis, as they can sometimes exacerbate the symptoms of sound sensitivity.

An experienced audiologist can help to determine the best treatment plan for each individual based on their specific symptoms and needs.

 

Hyperacusis test

How do you test for hyperacusis?  Hyperacusis can be a challenging condition to diagnose and a comprehensive evaluation by an audiologist is necessary to determine the best course of treatment.

Hyperacusis is often diagnosed through a variety of tests and evaluations.  These can be an audiological evaluation, a Loudness Discomfort Level (LDL) test, an acoustic reflex test and an Electromyography (EMG) test.

Is there a hyperacusis cure?  Currently, there is no known cure for hyperacusis. However, there are several treatment options available, as I mentioned earlier, that can help individuals manage their symptoms and improve their quality of life.

 

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While there is currently no known cure for hyperacusis, with the help of an audiologist, many individuals are able to manage their symptoms and improve their quality of life.

We can support you locally, call us free on 0800 567 7621 to speak with one of our audiologists or to book a free consultation near you.

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This article was written by Kimberley Bradshaw

Meet Kimberley Bradshaw , Head of Customer Content Experience

By working closely with the Hearing Aid UK audiologists, experts and advisers, she develops the online content, so that the customer's experience is the best it can be. 

Kimberley's medical representation has allowed her to focus on the importance of hearing healthcare and explore the many ways in which hearing loss and its awareness can be improved.

She has collaborated and written about hearing healthcare for several online publications.

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FAQs About Hyperacusis

Is hyperacusis rare?

How rare is hyperacusis? Hyperacusis is a relatively rare condition, but its exact prevalence is not well known and can occur at any age. However, it is more commonly diagnosed in adults and in women than in men.

Is hyperacusis dangerous?

Is hyperacusis serious? Hyperacusis can be a serious condition that can significantly impact a person's quality of life. In some cases, hyperacusis can also be a symptom of an underlying condition, such as a neurological disorder, head injury, or exposure to loud noise. This is why it is important to identify and treat the underlying condition to prevent further damage and improve outcomes.

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