Hyperacusis Treatments

Hyperacusis refers to an increased sensitivity to and reduced tolerance of everyday sounds that people would not usually find uncomfortable.

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What is hyperacusis?

People with hyperacusis may find these sounds merely irritating or they may have a more adverse reaction, experiencing severe discomfort and even pain on exposure to certain noises. Some examples of the sounds that people with this condition report finding problematic include children’s screams, the sound of machinery, and high-pitched noises, such as alarms or sirens.

This condition can cause people to withdraw from social and public situations in order to avoid exposure to these sounds, which can, in turn, lead to isolation and feelings of distress and anxiety. An inability to concentrate in the presence of certain sounds can also affect concentration, which can subsequently affect the individual's performance at school or in the workplace.

People who find that intolerance of sound is affecting their day-to-day living should seek medical attention. A healthcare practitioner will examine the ears and, if required, refer the patient to an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialist or audiologist for further testing. No tests are currently available that can lead to a definitive diagnosis of hyperacusis; however, symptom questionnaires and a hearing test can help a physician to determine the level of sound that a patient can tolerate and the level that causes a reaction.

When Normal Sounds are Painfully LOUD! | Hyperacusis

Management

There are no specific drugs or corrective surgeries that can cure hyperacusis, although treating any underlying specific medical conditions could help to resolve the problem.

If no clear underlying cause can be identified and treated, a number of techniques are available to help patients reduce their sensitivity to sounds, as well as any fears and anxieties they have developed as a result of the condition.

Currently, the management approach to hyperacusis is therapy and counseling. This may involve sound therapy, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), lifestyle changes, as well as counseling and education.

Sound therapy

Since people with hyperacusis often isolate themselves in order to avoid certain sounds, therapists generally feel it is important to reintroduce sound into a patient’s life gently and gradually so that they can again start to take part in activities they had been avoiding.

Also referred to as desensitization, sound therapy is used to desensitize a patient’s hearing over a period of several months. This is achieved through the use of noise generators, which may take the form of an ear-level device, similar to a hearing aid, or a bedside sound generator. White noise is the sound most commonly used.

CBT

The aim of CBT is to help patients recognize what is helpful and unhelpful when they are trying to cope with hyperacusis on a day-to-day basis. Patients are encouraged to explore the way they think about the problems associated with hyperacusis and to make changes that will help to reduce their stress levels, alter any avoidance behavior, and recover from hyperacusis symptoms.

Lifestyle changes

Patients are taught relaxation techniques. They are advised to listen to soothing music or sounds and encouraged not to avoid situations where they may be exposed to noise. Patients are also advised not to rely on ear muffs or ear plugs to blot out sound since this can result in a further increase in sound sensitivity.

Counseling and education

Counseling and education can help a patient learn more about their condition and feel supported in coping with the problems it causes.

Support groups for patients include the British Tinnitus Association and Action on Hearing Loss. These organizations provide an opportunity for patients to share and discuss their experiences with other people who suffer from hyperacusis.

Outcomes

Research has shown that patients tend to find counseling, CBT, and education an effective combination. When a structured management approach to hyperacusis is employed, the success rate in terms of symptom relief are between 50% and 85%.

References

Further Reading

Last Updated: Apr 25, 2021

Sally Robertson

Written by

Sally Robertson

Sally first developed an interest in medical communications when she took on the role of Journal Development Editor for BioMed Central (BMC), after having graduated with a degree in biomedical science from Greenwich University.

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