When women are highly stressed, they become ultra-sensitive to sound according to a recent study. At times of extreme stress, even a normal speaking volume (in the 60 decibels range) may be perceived as painful to the ears – a study in Sweden showed that even just a few minutes of induced stress could cause such a reaction.

The subjects of the study were many and varied – men and women of different age groups were exposed to five minute increments of physical, mental, and social stress. The physical stress was caused using contact with ice, the mental stress with a test, and the social stress by having the individual watched.

Naturally, participants had varying stress levels coming into the test – some of the individuals tested were already under a great deal of stress, and after the test it was found that women in this category were significantly more emotionally exhausted than men falling under this criteria. They also showed a greater degree of sound sensitivity than less emotionally exhausted women.

The test was also performed on some individuals who went into the test with a low level of emotional tiredness – they emerged from the test with very different results, and some were even less sensitive to sound.

When under intense stress, normal sounds such as someone chewing, a pen tapping, dishes clanking, a keyboard clicking, or a normal speaking voice – can all become almost unbearable. Since these sounds are ubiquitous it can be very disabling to the sufferer, affecting their work life and general mood.

While nearly one third of people in Sweden’s workforce have some sort of auditory problem according to a past study, this is the first time that a connection has been drawn between stress and sound hypersensitivity. This issue can cause individuals to withdraw from others to protect themselves, or to lash out for what appears to be no reason.