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Hyperacusis and Hearing Aids: What You Need To Know

a young woman with red hair on an orange background covering her ears and closing her eyes

If you’ve ever been overwhelmed by a benign sound like a car engine, you may have a case of hyperacusis. This condition is characterized by a heightened sensitivity to everyday sounds. It has an auditory component, which causes the hearer physical discomfort in response to the sound. It often also has a psychological component, whereby the hearer experiences extreme irritation or fear in response to the sound. Here’s what you need to know.

Can Hearing Loss Cause Noise Sensitivity?

Although it may seem paradoxical, there appears to be a link between hyperacusis and hearing loss. Research has revealed that about half of all people with hyperacusis also have hearing loss. Additionally, 40 and 79 percent of patients with tinnitus also have hyperacusis.

The sound sensitivity experienced by people with hearing loss may be due to a process called auditory recruitment, a function of the little hairs inside your ears — called stereocilia — which resonate so your brain can process sound waves. These hairs weaken with age and noise overexposure, affecting their ability to accurately process sound. Instead, they may send an alarm signal to the still-functioning stereocilia, resulting in a painful sound experience.

Managing Hyperacusis

Hyperacusis can be the result of several underlying conditions. Treatment options may vary depending on the nature of the condition and other related factors. Some strategies seek to manage the condition, while others may be able to reduce or eliminate the symptoms. Here are a few:

  • Hearing protection. Some people with hyperacusis use ear protection to block out unpleasant sounds. Studies have shown that this practice can, in fact, make the problem worse. Muffling noise can lead to a lower sound tolerance. A professional audiologist can help you “recalibrate” how your brain processes sounds.
  • Hearing aids. If your hyperacusis is associated with hearing loss, you may be able to use hearing aids to improve your hearing and reduce the impacts of the condition. A programmable hearing aid allows you to adjust the settings to suit your needs. You can amplify sounds you have trouble hearing and reduce the volume of sounds that cause discomfort.
  • Sound therapy. Using environmental sound or ear-level sound generators can be used to help retrain the brain to re-normalize how loud everyday sounds are to help reduce sound sensitivity.  You and your audiologist work together to develop a plan to use sound to make permanent improvements to your sound sensitivities and quality of life.

Some forms of ear protection provide a therapeutic combination of noise dampening with mild amplification. In extreme cases, your audiologist may recommend using a sound generator to offset the uncomfortable noise.

How To Overcome Noise Anxiety

Hyperacusis encompasses both physical discomfort and emotional distress. It’s sometimes enough to be reassured that, although a sound is uncomfortable, it isn’t harmful. For example, confirming with others around you that a sound isn’t harsh to them can eliminate one source of anxiety. Emotional regulation or pain management techniques may help you separate your discomfort from the anxiety it induces.

To complicate things, the relationship between anxiety and hyperacusis can be cyclical. Stress can interfere with your circulatory system, which in turn, can exacerbate problems with your ears. In turn, this discomfort can raise your stress levels. Experts suggest seeking psychological interventions, such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), to address the anxiety or depression that may accompany hyperacusis.

Know Where To Go First

From CBT to hearing aid specialists, treating your hyperacusis can take a village. To keep things simple, your first appointment should be with a registered audiologist. They’ll conduct a sound sensitivity assessment to better understand your hearing and recommend the next steps in your treatment.

Your audiologist can help you determine which sounds are safe and which you should avoid. They can also offer strategies for managing auditory discomfort and related anxiety.

Personalized Help For Hyperacusis In Alberta

If you’re experiencing sensitivity to sounds, you don’t have to grin and bear it. The audiologists at Soundwave Hearing Care will listen to you. We can test your hearing and assess your auditory processing to determine the interventions best suited to your condition. Don’t play a guessing game with your hearing and enjoyment of life! Contact us today to book an assessment.

All the blogs are reviewed and edited by our clinic's lead audiologist, Dr. Anne Wooliams. Dr. Woolliams is an experienced audiologist specialized in pediatric audiology, auditory processing, and tinnitus/sound sensitivity therapy. She is dedicated to providing top-notch hearing care and helping her clients improve their language and communication abilities. Dr. Woolliams' expertise in literature and linguistics, combined with her passion for helping people improve their language and communication, make her an incredibly valuable asset in the field of audiology. Learn more about Dr. Woolliams.