What are your favorite sounds? Maybe it’s taking a bite out of a crisp apple, a four-string quartet, or hearing the roar of a river. For some people, sound can be a real nuisance, even painful! Are there any sounds out there that bother you or make you uncomfortable? Do you know anybody who struggles with everyday sounds, even if they’re seemingly not that loud? If so, that may be someone experiencing noise sensitivity.
While noise sensitivity is fairly rare, there are still a handful of conditions that are related to it, like tinnitus, misophonia, and hyperacusis. Let’s dive into the specifics of each one and look into how they can be treated.
Several Conditions Related To Noise Sensitivity
Noise sensitivity is when everyday sounds seem much louder than they should, which can often be painful and uncomfortable. For people with noise sensitivity, sounds may be unbearably loud whereas others don’t seem to notice them at all. There are three main conditions related to noise sensitivity: tinnitus, misophonia, and hyperacusis.
Tinnitus is when you hear certain sounds, like a ringing, buzzing, or clicking, but it’s a sound that has no external source. For some people, tinnitus lasts a few seconds at a time and only shows up every few weeks. For others, tinnitus is a constant and loud sound that interferes with their normal day-to-day functioning. Tinnitus is known to affect between 15-20% of people and is most commonly experienced by the elderly.
Tinnitus symptoms include the many kinds of sounds one may hear, like buzzing, roaring, clicking, hissing, or humming sounds. Everybody experiences it differently. In fact, tinnitus is typically a symptom of another underlying condition, which is why treating the condition causing it will usually help improve tinnitus. Tinnitus can have a variety of causes, including:
- Exposure to loud noises
- Ototoxic medications
- Occupational hazards
- Anxiety and stress
- Age-related hearing loss,
And others. Diagnosis of tinnitus is especially difficult because most people won’t visit an audiologist when they hear the ringing sound in their ears, especially if it occurs randomly and sporadically. In fact, most people discover they have tinnitus when they visit an audiologist for another condition, like hearing loss.
Because tinnitus affects each person differently, treatment for it varies from person to person. Some people find relief by going to an acupuncturist, while others have success by using a noise machine to mask the sound. Other natural ways to address tinnitus are progressive muscle relaxation, pranayama breathing exercises, and even yoga! If you are suffering from tinnitus, make an appointment with an audiologist today, and together you can come up with a treatment plan that’s right for you.
Hyperacusis, also known as noise sensitivity, is a hearing disorder that makes hearing everyday sounds difficult and painful. People with hyperacusis may have severe reactions to normal sounds like the faucet running, a car driving by, or a loud conversation. Thankfully, hyperacusis is pretty rare, affecting only 1 in 50,000 people, but most people who have it also suffer from tinnitus – a tough combination.
Symptoms of hyperacusis include
- Ear pain
- Relationship problems, social isolation, and lack of connection with friends and family
Treatment for hyperacusis is different depending on the cause of it. And while there is no cure, these have been found to help:
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
- Tinnitus Retraining Therapy (TRT)
- Sound desensitization
- Mental health strategies, like yoga and meditation
- Surgery – if all other therapies fail, adults may opt for surgery. The procedure involves moving tissue from behind the ears to be placed around the hearing bones. This has been found to help reduce sensitivity.
If you think you may have hyperacusis, don’t ignore it! Make an appointment with an audiologist. They will perform a variety of tests, look into your medical history, and closely examine your ears to uncover exactly what is happening, and together you can chart a path to relief.
Misophonia is also known as sound sensitivity syndrome. While one of the more unique hearing conditions out there, it is relatively common, affecting between 6-20% of people. Misophonia is when certain sounds trigger a strong emotional or psychological response in people. The reaction to the sound can range from fear to anger, and annoyance to sheer panic. The most common trigger sounds tend to be oral, like chewing or breathing sounds, other sounds include keyboard or finger tapping or the sound of windshield wipers. Some reactions are so strong the person feels the urge to leave and run away.
The most common symptoms for those with misophonia are:
- Irritation or disgust turning into anger.
- Directing verbal aggression to the person making the noise.
- Getting physically violent with objects.
- Physically lashing out at the person making the noise.
In very severe cases, those with misophonia may experience rage, anger, hatred, panic, fear, and emotional distress. While the cause for misophonia is still unknown, studies have shown it most commonly appears in people with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), anxiety disorders, Tourette’s syndrome, and tinnitus.
Is misophonia a mental illness?
Misophonia is still a bit of a mystery, and doctors aren’t entirely certain what causes it, but they do know it is not a problem with how the ears work. There are many theories out there, but most doctors agree it’s part mental and part physical. They believe it could be the interaction between a certain sound and how it directly affects the brain, which then triggers an automatic response in the body.
While at the moment there is no cure for misophonia, there are some treatment options out there that patients have had success with:
- Tinnitus retraining therapy
- Noise-canceling headphones (when around the trigger sound)
- Listening to calming sounds
5 Ways to Cope with Sensitivity to Sound
Every person will have a different way to cope with sensitivity to sound, the important thing is to find the strategy that works for you and to stick with it. Try not to be discouraged, the first thing you try may not work, but that doesn’t mean there is no relief to be found. Be sure to consult with an audiologist for guidance, they are hearing care professionals and will help you find the solution best suited to your individual needs.
Read on for five ways we recommend for coping with sensitivity to sound.
#1 Don’t overprotect
You may think that using earplugs at all times is a good way to improve your sensitivity to sounds, but unfortunately, that strategy could end up doing more harm than good. Earplugs are best used for short-term relief, to protect your hearing while at a concert perhaps, but not for the treatment of a chronic condition. Wearing hearing protection all the time means that after some time when you eventually do remove the earplugs, sounds will be even louder than usual. That defeats the whole purpose!
A helpful strategy is almost the opposite of overprotection. Rather than cover up the sounds, try and desensitize yourself to them. Repeated exposure to the sounds you hate will help you react less strongly to them over time. By working with a specialist, you’ll listen to a variety of sounds (usually static-like) for a certain amount of time each day, starting at lower volumes and working up to louder sounds. After about six months, you should start to notice a difference in how you react.
#3 Tinnitus retraining therapy
This type of therapy was designed to retrain the way your brain, central nervous system, and the auditory system receives, processes, and interprets sound. Though this therapy was designed to address tinnitus, it has also been shown to help with both misophonia and hyperacusis. A device, similar to a hearing aid, is used for this therapy. It emits a low-intensity sound that allows your brain to hear both the noise it creates and tinnitus. Over time it is supposed to help your brain reduce the amount of attention it gives the tinnitus, making the tinnitus feel less severe. With hyperacusis, the same treatment can lessen your overall sensitivity to sound.
#4 Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
This type of therapy has shown tremendous success in a variety of settings, be it to address trauma, anxiety, depression, and more. It works by restructuring negative reactions and giving you more control over the condition. CBT is an ongoing process that involves education, relaxation training, and prescribed exposure to certain sounds. It has been shown to reduce stress and minimize the trauma reaction associated with tinnitus or noise sensitivity.
#5 Reduce Stress
Though it may not be directly treating the noise sensitivity, stress reduction can do wonders for how you experience your condition. Stress is never helpful, which is why its reduction can go long way in helping you find some relief. There are countless options out there for ways to reduce stress, the key is finding the one that works best for you. Some examples include
- Breathing exercises
- Going on long walks
- Connecting with friends
Beyond these five tips, the most important thing you can do for your hearing health is to get support as soon as you notice something isn’t feeling right. No matter how small the issue may seem, schedule an appointment with an audiologist to get it checked out. The sooner you discover what’s going on, the better your chances of finding the help you need.
Sensitivity to sound can be disorienting, frustrating, and sometimes even scary, but the good news is there are options out there to address it. If you notice that everyday sounds are having a strong effect on you, or that you are hearing sounds that others cannot, see an audiologist. With their help, you will get the answers you need to get on a path to recovery.