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What is hyperacusis? Explanation + 2 tips

Photo to illustrate What is hyperacusis?

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In our blog, we frequently refer to so-called "ear disorders." One of them is hyperacusis. In this blog, we will explain exactly what this condition entails and what you can do about it.

What is hyperacusis?

The word hyperacusis itself in Greek means "I hear too much. That is exactly what this hearing disorder stands for. It is not life-threatening, but it can be experienced as annoying, irritating or even painful. In this condition, the person has a hypersensitivity to sound. The sound cannot be filtered properly so it can be described as unpleasant. Not every person experiences the same thing with this condition. The degree and severity varies from person to person. In addition, it is also not age-related and can occur in all ages. It is usually chronic and is often also accompanied by hearing loss or tinnitus (ringing in the ears). An estimated 3 percent of the Dutch population has this condition.

A tolerance limit

Everyone has their own limit of tolerance when it comes to sound. You can tell this by how loud someone turns on the television or how loud someone listens to music. Where one person can tolerate listening to headphones while another cannot. Or where one person turns the television down just a bit more than another. This is a noise tolerance limit. If you exceed this limit, you may experience pain or annoyance from the loudness of sound. People who have the condition may describe normal sounds or sounds not normally perceived as loud as intolerable. This is because they have a low sound tolerance threshold. If you compare this to a sound button on a remote control, you could say that with these people the volume knob is constantly set too high. People around them then hear normally, but for the people with this condition, the sounds are way too loud.


How does this come about?

There is a dynamic range. Dynamic range is the ability our ears have to quickly adapt to varying sound intensities. For example, if you have a radio on and you are having a conversation next to it, your conversation partner may make a softer sound than the radio does. This means that your ears have to adjust to two different sound strengths. This goes well for most people. Because they can adjust, they can also hear both channels well and nothing else is wrong. In people with the condition, this is a lot more difficult. They do not have the ability to handle this change in sound strength well. Rapid changes in sound cannot be easily processed by them. They cannot muffle sound and therefore everything sounds very sharp or very loud.

How it is that they lack the ability to muffle sound is not known to this day. However, various situations have been linked to hyperacusis. For example, this condition is often related to other conditions and is the result of them.


Hearing damage

The condition is suspected to be caused by damage in the hearing organ. This can be caused, for example, by an injury or blow to the head or by trauma caused by noise. One can think of a prolonged exposure to noise where the hearing has been damaged. This is also called noise trauma. It is also possible that things went wrong during an operation that damaged the hearing. There may also be damage to the nervous system that causes this condition.

Finally, there can also be impaired communication between the hearing organ and the brain. No proper compensation can then be made in the sound stimuli. This sometimes occurs with a brain hemorrhage. In addition, hypersensitivity to sound also sometimes occurs. These are possible causes and links that have been made so far. But until the cause of the disorder itself is known, no certainty can be attached to these connections.


How is it diagnosed?

An ENT doctor has the ability to diagnose hyperacusis. This is done through sound tests. During these tests, sounds are played at different frequencies and the degree of hypersensitivity is determined. However, the idea is to clearly indicate to the specialist when the sound is too loud so that the diagnosis can be made properly. And, of course, he can then take it into account and the sound is not increased further. Once the diagnosis is made, it cannot be treated. This also has to do with it because so little is known about the causes. Therefore, it is advisable to live with it, however difficult it will be at first.

For many people, going to the doctor to get a diagnosis is already a huge step, but know that this is not a life-threatening illness. After being diagnosed, you can also discuss it with others so that they can consider you as well.

Living with hyperacusis and hyperacusis hearing protection

The sounds around you, of course, you cannot stop. Think of the rustling of paper, or talking people and even screaming children. In addition, even the background music in a restaurant can be annoying. These sounds cannot be avoided. You can do your best to avoid them, of course, but there will always be noise. Therefore, you can also choose to accept the condition. This is not an easy step for many people, but know that you are not the only ent who has this condition. Seek out peers, or talk about it with those close to you. There are no medications for the condition. Some medications do affect the disorder, whereby they may even cause or worsen it.

Tip #1: Protect your ears

Precisely because it is not visible to others that you have hyperacusis, it is important to talk about it. An audiological center or sometimes a psychologist can help you deal with it when you can't manage it yourself. During this counseling, we also focus on exercises that you can try out for yourself in everyday life. These exercises focus on the sounds around you and getting used to them. Through such exercises, you can learn how to react less sensitively to sounds.

Besides accepting it, of course, it is also important to protect your hearing. Hyperacusis hearing protection is done by avoiding loud noises as much as possible. For example, it is not recommended that you go to places where loud music is a staple or that you listen to loud music on headphones when you can also do this on a muted speaker. By avoiding such things, you ensure that your hearing is not damaged (further), if this is the cause of the condition. Because you would only make it worse if you did not take it into account. Remember that it is irreversible when your hearing is only damaged further.


Tip #2: Seek recognition

One of the tricky things about having a disorder is seeking recognition. Because it is not common, you will make some people wonder when you tell them what you have now. But that doesn't make it strange. Those around you need to understand you and be understanding of the situation you are in. By getting this recognition, your life will be a lot more relaxed and you will know that you have support from those around you. Since little is currently known about the condition, the main thing now is to learn to live with it and to keep those around you well informed.


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