Hyperacusis is a condition that arises from a problem in the way the brain’s central auditory processing center perceives noise. It can often lead to pain and discomfort. Individuals with hyperacusis have difficulty tolerating sounds which do not seem loud to others, such as the noise from running faucet water, riding in a car, walking on leaves, dishwasher, fan on the refrigerator, shuffling papers. Although all sounds may be perceived as too loud, high frequency sounds may be particularly troublesome.
There are some diseases or disorders that are linked to hyperacusis, such as:
Chronic fatigue syndrome
Post traumatic stress disorder
Additionally, hyperacusis is seen in patients who have experienced a head trauma, such as an air bag deployment, surgery to the jaw or face, or a viral infection of the inner ear. One major cause of hyperacusis is loud noise exposure. It may be triggered by a single intense noise such as a gunshot, or it may develop gradually from listening to loud noise without hearing protection. People exposed to loud levels of noise through their occupation, whether as a machinist or a musician, should be protective of their hearing to avoid noise-induced hearing loss and other changes in their hearing such as tinnitus or hyperacusis.
There are no specific corrective surgical or medical treatments for hyperacusis. However, sound therapy may be used to “retrain” the auditory processing center of the brain to accept everyday sounds. This involves the use of a noise-generating device worn on the affected ear or ears. Those suffering from hyperacusis may be uncomfortable with placing sound directly in their ear, but the device produces a gentle static-like sound (white noise) that is barely audible. Completion of sound therapy may take up to 12 months, and usually improves sound tolerance.Because social situations are often painfully loud for those with hyperacusis, withdrawal, social isolation, and depression are common.