Just imagine if common everyday sounds, including conversations with family and friends, or something as simple as closing a door, were uncomfortably loud to the point where you basically lived your life trying to avoid any sound at all. Well, this is exactly what it is like when you have a condition called Hyperacusis.
According to the American Speech Language Hearing Association, Hyperacusis is a rare hearing disorder that causes sounds, which would otherwise seem normal to most people, to be unbearably loud. The Hyperacusis Network reports that 1 in 50,000 individuals suffer from Hyperacusis and 1 in 1,000 individuals with tinnitus also have Hyperacusis. Just to be clear, Hyperacusis is not "better than normal hearing" or discomfort with loud sounds. It is also not Misophonia which is a strong dislike or negative emotional reaction to very specific sounds, like nails on a chalkboard, or people chewing food. Nor is it Phonophobia which is a Fear of a specific sound.
When it comes to sound tolerance, a normal hearing ear can hear a wide range of sounds from rustling leaves to a guitar at a rock concert. For almost everyone, sounds around 120 decibels. Generally, you realize a sound is too loud before it reaches a painful level and that "comfortable" loudness level varies from person to person. Most individuals with Hyperacusis, typically have normal hearing yet find everyday sounds like care engines, rustling paper, and dishes clanking, to be uncomfortably loud.
A major cause of Hyperacusis is loud noise exposure that can be a result of a single brief incident of noise such as a gunshot or airbag deployment in a car crash. A few years ago a teenage girl named Cindy Redmond from Wilmington Deleware thrust Hyperacusis into the national spotlight when her friend's stepfather blasted an air horn next to her ear which exceeded 130 decibels. This resulted in debilitation Hyperacusis for Cindy. Preventing her from living a normal life because she is constantly needing to avoid sound. You can donate to her Hyperacusis research fund here: https://fundraise.hyperacusisresearch.org/give/114588/#!/donation/checkout
Even if you are exposed to steady state noise for a long period of time, you can still get Hyperacusis. Therefore, it is critical to use hearing protection any time you are in noise. Hyperacusis can significantly impact your overall quality of life because it can also cause fear, anxiety, social isolation, depression, insomnia, and lack of concentration.
If you suspect you have Hyperacusis, you need to consult with an Audiologist and have a Comprehensive Auditory Evaluation. For some individuals, your tinnitus may get better on it's own. For other individuals, treatment may be recommended.
The first treatment option is Sound Therapy. This is when you gradually introduce auditory stimulation at higher and higher levels to diminish your sensitivity over time. Second, is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or CBT. This focuses on restructuring negative reactions and regaining control of the condition. Third is other experimental therapies. Therapies including Biofeedback, Acupuncture, and other relaxation techniques may also provide some relief.
However, treatment becomes even more complicated when an individual with hearing loss has Hyperacusis at the same time. In these cases, treatment may require using an ear mold to attenuate sound entering the ear canal and provide gentle amplification at the same time. Over time, your brain may gradually increase its tolerance for sound.
No matter the treatment solution, it is imperative that you work with a team of professionals that are trained and knowledgeable about hyperacusis. Treatment should be personalized to you specifically, and you should understand that it will take time to experience relief. Hyperacusis can be extremely debilitating, but it doesn't have to be that way forever. So if you think you have Hyperacusis, the best thing you could possibly do is see an Audiologist to get you some relief.