What is Hyperacusis?
Hyperacusis is a health condition characterized by an increased sensitivity to certain frequency and volume ranges of sound. A person with severe hyperacusis has difficulty tolerating everyday sounds, some of which may seem unpleasantly or painfully loud to that person but not to others.
Hyperacusis can come on suddenly or gradually. It can initially affect only one ear but within a short time, the condition is almost always bilateral. It can be mild or severe. Often, people who have hyperacusis also have tinnitus. Although severe hyperacusis is rare, 40% of tinnitus patients complain of mild hyperacusis.
By far, the most common causes of hyperacusis are noise injuries to the inner ear or head injuries. Other conditions that may contribute include an adverse reaction to medication or surgeries, chronic ear infections and auto immune disorders
Diagnosis of hyperacusis is difficult because of the many potential causes of the condition. An initial interview and a complete audiological evaluation is usually conducted.
Depending upon the potential cause and severity of a patient’s hyperacusis, treatment may involve several strategies that are implemented together.
- Sound therapy is the most commonly used treatment for hyperacusis and is used to restore normal sensitivity to sound. Sound therapy involves the use of noise generating instruments that emit a soft, pleasing sound that is not heard by others and does not interfere with hearing.
- Tinnitus retraining therapy is a method by which barely audible sound is delivered to the ear for defined periods of time each day.
- A third approach is the use of a tinnitus masking device which looks like a hearing aid but delivers white noise to the ear.
- Neuromonics is a new treatment that involves the use of a small medical processor that delivers a pleasant acoustic signal (embedded in music) at a comfortable listening level. This sound stimulates a wide range of auditory pathways and positively engages the emotional system and autonomic nervous system of the brain which in turn decreases disturbance from tinnitus over the course of the treatment. Conducted over a period of about six months, neuromonics has been shown through tinnitus research and clinical trials to result in significantly reduced awareness and disturbance for up to 90% of people who suffer from tinnitus and hyperacusis. It can also lead to better relaxation and sleep and improved quality of life.