Hyperacusis - A guide to Hearing Loss

This is an unusual ear condition in that it is difficult to assess and even more difficult to research. It is considered to be a subjective condition in that sufferers experience different responses to different sounds.

What is ‘hyperacusis?’

It is defined as intolerance to sounds which don’t cause any problems for people with normal hearing. It doesn’t actually cause hearing loss per se but what it does do is to cause pain and discomfort to the sufferer.

What makes this condition hard to measure is the fact that this sound intolerance varies between individuals. In other words, there may be certain group of sounds which one person with hyperacusis finds intolerable whereas they don’t bother another person with the same condition. And it can be the type of sound rather then the volume which causes a problem. For example, emptying the dishwasher is a normal, everyday occurrence which isn’t noisy as such but someone with hyperacusis will be hypersensitive to this sound, which they perceive to be loud and discordant. This intolerance manifests itself as pain and discomfort. Someone with hyperacusis can still hear but what they are hearing is intrusive and uncomfortable loud sounds.

We have already mentioned that it doesn’t usually cause hearing loss although it can depend on the cause of the condition. If hyperacusis has appeared as a symptom of another disease, for example, Meniere’s disease then hearing loss will occur.

What does happen is that the sufferer becomes frightened of certain sounds and starts to avoid situations where those sounds are likely to be. This leads to a gradual withdraw from society and leads to isolation and loneliness.

Which is much the same effect that hearing loss has on an individual. Someone who is finding it increasingly difficult to hear will start to avoid certain situations and gradually cut themselves off from any social interaction.

Children as well as adults can suffer from this condition.

Causes of hyperacusis

It can occur as a result of prolonged exposure to loud noise or from a blow to the head. But in other cases it happens for no obvious reason.

It has been suggested that there is a link between hyperacusis and tinnitus but this has not been fully proven.

It can form part of another disease or condition such as Meniere’s disease, tinnitus, migraine, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and Williams’ Syndrome. In fact, the vast majority of sufferers of Williams’ syndrome experience hyperacusis. Other causes include some forms of ear surgery, Bell’s palsy and Lyme Disease.

Treatment of hyperacusis

If this has occurred as a symptom of another condition then once that condition has been treated the hyperacusis will disappear.

But if it has occurred for no obvious reason then the options are wearing ear protection when in the presence of loud sounds and ‘auditory desensitisation’.

Ear protection isn’t a good idea as all it does is mask the problem by increasing the sensitivity of the ears which confuses the body’s auditory system.

Experts argue that it is better to force the sufferer to deal with their condition by reducing their hyper-sensitivity to those sounds which are causing their discomfort. This is what is known as auditory desensitisation. Auditory desensitisation involves using a device which looks like a small hearing aid – called a noise generator. These enable sounds to be generated and have a small volume control which can be adjusted as necessary.

The aim is to gradually acclimatise the person to those sounds which they are unable to tolerate, over a period of time.

Hearing Loss

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