Not all hearing disorders involve too little hearing. Sometimes, noises can be too loud. Though the overall number of people suffering from hyperacusis in Tucson is small, those who do have it experience an extreme sensitivity to certain sounds that can interfere with their daily lives.
About 50,000 people across the U.S. have a hearing disorder called hyperacusis. These relatively low numbers might account for the confusion regarding the disease – even among medical professionals, who cannot agree on a definition of hyperacusis.
Hyperacusis is usually described as a condition in which an individual has an intolerance to certain sounds. Tucson residents with hyperacusis are extra-sensitive to specific frequencies and volumes; their perception of how loud certain sounds are contrasts significantly with how people with normal hearing perceive the same sound. This is true even with sounds that most would describe as soft. Examples of sounds that bother those with hyperacusis include:
- Running water
- Kitchen appliances (such as refrigerators or dishwashers)
- Automobile engines
- Conversations between two people
Hyperacusis isn’t the only hearing disorder characterized by an uncharacteristically harsh aversion to sound. Individuals with misophonia develop strong negative reactions to some otherwise innocuous sounds, eliciting reactions such as anger or fear. People with phonophobia have an irrational fear of certain sounds. While these disorders lead to intense emotional reactions, hyperacusis causes actual physical discomfort. Many patients experience pain or a tingling sensation. Most also suffer from a ringing in the ears known as tinnitus. Similar to the latter, the degree to which hyperacusis bothers people varies greatly. Some experience minor discomfort while others develop more extreme symptoms such as loss of balance or seizures.
Hyperacusis Starts in the Brain
Hyperacusis is the brain’s exaggerated response to certain sounds. Scientists aren’t exactly sure of the mechanisms behind this but believe it might have to do with a reduction in nerve input that occurs in response to sound. This causes the brain to overcompensate by amplifying the volume. Some patients have an overactive eardrum muscle called the tensor tympani; normally, this contracts in response to loud sounds. These individuals experience pain and discomfort when the muscle contracts too frequently, moving even when sounds aren’t very loud.
You’ll have an increased risk of hyperacusis in Tucson if you have a history of noise exposure, tinnitus, trauma to the head or viral infection of the inner ear. Bell’s palsy, Lyme disease, autism and depression are also associated with hyperacusis. One thing that is not is hearing loss: many people have normal hearing despite the disorder.
Those most likely to experience hyperacusis in Houston have a history of noise exposure, tinnitus, physical trauma to the head or viral infection of the inner ear. In addition, certain diseases increase the risk of hyperacusis; these include Bell’s palsy, Lyme disease, autism and depression. Hearing loss is not a prerequisite for hyperacusis; many patients have perfectly normal hearing otherwise.
Treatments for Hyperacusis
In order to treat hyperacusis, your audiologist in Tucson will need to know what is causing it. If you’ve experienced physical trauma, it may improve on its own. Most likely, you’ll be taught coping strategies such as cognitive behavior therapy designed to alter your brain’s perception of sound so it becomes less bothersome. This treatment involves exposure to quiet noises for brief periods; over time, the volume is increased until you have become used to the sound. This is a long-term treatment that can take six months or more. Other possibilities include relaxation exercises, auditory integration therapy and even acupuncture. Drugs may be prescribed to help you manage stress and anxiety associated with your condition.
Contact your audiologist if you’d like more information on hyperacusis and other hearing disorders in Tucson.