If you are excessively sensitive to sound, you may have a condition called hyperacusis. About 80% of people who have severe tinnitus have hyperacusis as well.
What it isn’t
Simply being sensitive to, or disliking, certain sounds doesn’t qualify as hyperacusis. Many of us have sounds which can be unbearable at times. After a day of Zoom calls I often find the TV unbearable at its usual volume and have to turn it down. Some days we love the sounds of our kids rough-housing, but when we’ve had little sleep it can make us profoundly irritated. Some people are simply more sensitive to noise than other people (like some of us are more sensitive to smell).
What it is
Having hyperacusis means the sounds don’t just annoy you, they really distress you, and that has a significant impact on your life.
Hyperacusis can be broken down into a number of different types:
Loudness hyperacusis – where you hear sound louder than other people. An Uncomfortable Loudness Level (ULL) test from your audiologist can confirm whether the thresholds at which you find noise uncomfortable are lower than the norm.
Pain hyperacusis – where your ear hurts when you hear certain sounds, or sounds at a certain volume
Fear hyperacusis – where you are frightened of certain sounds, such as emergency sirens, chainsaws and crying babies. My tinnitus clients often experience this perfectly understandable fear that certain noises will make their tinnitus worse.
Annoyance hyperacusis (also known as misophonia) – where you have intense emotional or behavioral reactions, such as hatred or panic, to specific sounds created by someone else. Example sounds are tapping, clicking a pen, lip-smacking, breathing, lisping.
How it can be managed
As one of the things that differentiates hyperacusis from basic noise sensitivity is the distress the sounds cause, it makes sense that a key method of managing the condition is through psychological interventions such as mindfulness and CBT. The Bee Empowered course offers mindfulness support through an 8-week program, taken either as a group or 1-2-1. Also, this spring I will be launching Bee Free, a 6-week CBT program to improve life for people with tinnitus, hyperacusis and/or misophonia. Register your interest at firstname.lastname@example.org
Here are a couple of other loudness-related conditions:
Phonophobia – a fear of loud sounds. Sudden loud and unexpected sound can cause anxiety attacks. Phonophobia is an anxiety disorder rather than a hearing disorder.
Recruitment – an increase in loudness for sounds in the frequency range of a person who has hearing loss. When the decibel level in this frequency range increases quickly, it causes discomfort.