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Why are my ears sensitive to loud sounds and what causes Hyperacusis?

Hyperacusis is a condition where everyday sounds are perceived as being overly loud causing symptoms such as headache, fatigue, and difficulty concentrating. Understanding ear anatomy explains what causes hyperacusis.  The sound that triggers the reaction is typically at a lower volume or intensity. The reaction to sound is classified according to levels of annoyance, pain, and fear experienced. 

Posttraumatic stress disorder, chronic fatigue syndrome, generalized anxiety disorder, depression, exhaustion, fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome, migraine, hearing impairment, tinnitus, and back/joint/muscle are all disorders that are comorbid with hyperacusis. Studies have found that males experience hyperacusis more frequently than women as well as smokers and sedentary individuals. Hyperacusis can cause a loss of enjoyment in activities of socializing, recreational activities, academic pursuits, and everyday activities. 

Hyperacusis is often confused with misophonia.  Misophonia occurs to specific sounds versus the commonplace, everyday sounds associated with hyperacusis. 

The link between the auditory system and areas of the brain involved in emotion is responsible for the feelings of intense joy in hearing the voice of a loved one to intense anxiety with a sound that is perceived as too loud or intolerable.  The hearing system is highly specialized and not limited to one area of the brain rather there are numerous links to other non-hearing areas that involve emotion, reaction, attention, and learning  The reticular formation is often involved and is the center for arousal and is important for sleep regulation  Other areas involve fear and anxiety in the amygdala, thalamus, and auditory cortex. 

There is a wide range of variations in the amount of distress that hyperacusis may cause an individual.  A multidisciplinary model for treatment is needed involving psychological interventions, most commonly cognitive behavioral therapy and audiology intervention including sound therapy. Both disciplines aim to reduce the distress caused by hyperacusis. 

The first step in treating hyperacusis is seeing a Doctor of Audiology for a comprehensive diagnostic evaluation.  The audiologist has specialized training in evaluating hyperacusis and will ensure that the level of sound is never uncomfortable or causes distress. Your audiologist will also administer specialized questions designed for your condition.  Your audiologist will then design a treatment plan to alleviate your distress that may use sound therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy. This may involve other professionals. 

Our audiologists have helped many to experience a reduction in the distress that hyperacusis is causing.  

Start today by calling Marin Hearing Center to schedule an appointment at 415-927-1567 or click here to book a time for a hearing evaluation with an audiologist using our secure web scheduler.