Q: My father has been complaining of certain noises driving him up the wall, and he’s starting to appear depressed and scared. Can you please tell me a little bit about hyperacusis and what can be done about it?
A: I am so sorry to hear about the situation your dad is experiencing, and, yes, I can fill you in on hyperacusis. First you need to understand what hyperacusis is along with signs and what can be done. Hyperacusis is a condition in which an individual is intolerant to everyday sounds and, in turn, has developed an increased sensitivity to the same sounds in their normal environment. Individuals who suffer from hyperacusis complain of everyday sounds being way too loud. Because of this sensation, their daily life is affected, in particular their quality of life. They may start compensating by using some type of earplugs or earmuffs when they are outside of their environment where they cannot control the noise to ease their pain.
Hyperacusis causes normal sounds that most people hardly notice to suddenly become irritating and even painful. Examples of these sounds are alarms, clanging of dishes, a hair dryer, or even a baby crying or children laughing. This sensitivity to noise may then lead to a phono phobia, which is a fear of noises. This needs to be addressed as soon as possible to prevent it resulting in the individual avoiding social activities fearing they will be exposed to harmful sounds.
Hyperacusis can affect children and adults but is rare. It’s estimated that it may affect one out of every 50 thousand individuals and may be caused by such factors as damage to the cochlea (inner ear) from overexposure to loud noises, such as certain work environments, gun fire, concerts, fireworks, and even the deployment of an air bag. Head injuries, autoimmune disorders, and chronic ear infections are a few more factors that can lead to this condition.
What can be done to treat this disorder? It needs to be managed as soon as possible. A team approach is necessary, including an audiological consult and then a personalized team approach to include a neurologist for migraines or head injuries, a family physician to monitor medication, a psychologist who has expertise in cognitive behavioral training, and even occupational therapy for those who have tolerance disturbances to sensory activity.
There is help, and the quicker hyperacusis is addressed, the greater the rate of success. If you, a friend, or family member appears to have hyperacusis, take action. Contact your medical doctor or audiologist (hearing healthcare professional) for assistance, and, as always, if we can answer any question, please feel free to contact Northwest Ohio Hearing Clinic.❦