Hyperacusis is a hearing condition that causes a heightened sensitivity to sound, making everyday noises, like running water, seem extremely loud.
This can make it difficult to carry out daily tasks in common environments, such as chores at home or workplace responsibilities. In turn, you might try to avoid social situations that could lead to anxiety, stress, and social isolation from exposure to noise.
Read on to learn more about the symptoms and potential causes of hyperacusis. We’ll also cover treatment options and how each one works.
Hyperacusis is a low tolerance for sound in one or both ears. It’s also known as an increased sensitivity to sound.
The condition affects the way you perceive loudness. It makes ordinary sounds, such as car engines, seem extremely loud. Even your own voice might seem too loud to you at times.
The perception of excessive loudness may cause pain and irritation, resulting in high levels of stress. It can also make it difficult to be in public settings like work or school. This can lead to:
Hyperacusis primarily affects people who:
Adults are more likely to develop hyperacusis since aging is associated with this condition. However, it can affect children, too.
Hyperacusis symptoms can vary. Mild symptoms can include:
- ordinary sounds seeming too loud
- your own voice sounding too loud
- discomfort in your ears
- difficulty concentrating
Severe symptoms can include:
In children, discomfort due to hyperacusis may cause symptoms like crying or screaming.
Hyperacusis is also associated with conditions like:
It’s worth noting that hyperacusis is different from phonophobia — the fear of loud sounds.
Hyperacusis affects the way you hear sounds. Phonophobia is a psychological condition that involves an emotional response to sounds. It doesn’t involve auditory issues.
However, hyperacusis can lead to phonophobia due to the perceived excessive loudness of certain sounds, so the two conditions may appear together.
Possible causes of hyperacusis include:
- High noise exposure. Loud noise is a major cause of hyperacusis. Exposure can happen over time (like playing loud music for many years) or a single occurrence (like hearing a gunshot).
- Head injury. An injury involving the head, jaw, or ear can lead to hyperacusis. One example is getting hit with an airbag in a car.
- Viral infections. Viral infections that affect the facial nerve or inner ear may lead to hyperacusis.
- Jaw or face surgery. Hyperacusis can happen if the inner ear or facial nerve is damaged during surgery.
- Some medications. Certain medications, like some cancer drugs, can cause ear damage and hyperacusis.
- Autoimmune disorders. Hyperacusis can be caused by autoimmune conditions, such as systemic lupus erythematosus.
- Temporomandibular joint disorder. The temporomandibular joint attaches your lower jaw to your skull. Problems with this joint may increase your risk of hearing issues, like hyperacusis.
- Autism. Autism or autism spectrum conditions can cause hearing sensitivities, including hyperacusis. According to 2015 research, about 40 percent of autistic children also have hyperacusis.
- Emotional stress. High levels of stress, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), can increase your risk of hyperacusis.