People who have hyperacusis hear things a little differently than people with relatively normal hearing. With this medical condition, ordinary sounds like running water, the ticking of a clock, or the timer alarm on your microwave not only sound extremely loud, but also can actually be painful. This doesn’t mean that their hearing is more acute, or that patients with this condition are able to hear more sounds than the rest of us – it just means that all normal sounds you may hear in a typical day are heard at a higher level of volume. This is not just a temporary inconvenience a with minor impact; it can literally have a profound effect on a person’s quality of life, because the condition doesn’t ever take a break – it’s there all the time.
How Does Hyperacusis Develop?
Scientists are not exactly sure what causes this condition to develop in any one person, but studies which have been conducted seem to point to exposure to one of several triggering conditions as a cause. One of the most prominent of these is noise related to a daily job routine: for instance, someone working in a factory with heavy machinery, or where a repetitive loud noise recurs throughout the eight-hour shift.
Traumatic head injuries are another possible cause of hyperacusis, with many of today’s hyperacusis patients having experienced some significant blow to the head in their past. Chronic ear infections are another culprit, because even though they can be cleared up with medication, the damage they do while the infection is rampaging can persist beyond the duration of the infection itself.
Migraine headaches are thought to be another possible cause of hyperacusis, since many current hyperacusis patients also experience migraines, or have had them in their medical history. There also seems to be a correlation between patients who have contracted Lyme disease or TMJ Syndrome in their past, although it is not known exactly what from those two conditions leads to the development of hyperacusis. Lyme disease is spread by a tick which can commonly be found in fields and woods, and may be brushed up against by a person. Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) Syndrome is a disorder which causes pain in the muscles and joints of the jaw.
As far as the physiology behind the actual triggering of hyperacusis, that’s the part of the equation that scientists and researchers have yet to confirm. At present, it seems likely that the fibers of the ear which regulate sound have been somehow compromised, and that the auditory nerve has suffered significant damage. Another school of thought holds that the brain’s central processing system affects how the brain evaluates sound, and for some reason magnifies it beyond its true level. And naturally enough, since there are primarily these two major theories about what actually happens in hyperacusis, there is also another group of scientists who believe that a combination of those two is the real answer to the problem.
Relationship to Tinnitus
While most people have probably not heard of hyperacusis, the medical condition of tinnitus is probably much more well-known. While these two conditions are not at all same thing, they do have a relationship, in that both represent departures from the norm in the way that sounds are heard. People with tinnitus experience several different abnormal sounds in their hearing, sometimes even when there is no actual noise being generated in the surroundings.
This can be felt as a ringing noise, or some kind of whistling, hissing, or buzzing, and it’s easy to see how this can be so distracting that a person’s quality of life could easily be diminished. Although hard statistics are not available to support this, it is estimated that more than 60% of patients who have tinnitus also have hyperacusis. So in addition to hearing a persistent buzzing or whistling sound in the ears, a patient who experiences both of these medical conditions would also sense ordinary sounds at several times their true volume.
Having either one of these medical conditions could have a profound impact on your daily life, but just imagine being troubled by both of them at the same time! Patients who are known to suffer from both medical conditions generally find it extremely hard to just get through a normal day. As a result, there’s a strong tendency for such individuals to withdraw from life to a significant extent, and become socially isolated. This in turn, can easily slide into depression and add to the list of medical conditions the individual would have to deal with.
Treatment for Hyperacusis
Treating hyperacusis requires a two-pronged approach, but it does not really result in a cure for the condition. People who have hyperacusis are generally counseled so as to help lower their reactions to loud sounds, and a process known as acoustic therapy helps to retrain the ear to hear sounds at a more normal level. While there are no actual medical or surgical procedures at present which can offer significant help, some success has been achieved by the counseling/retraining program. Not surprisingly, the same approach has been used with tinnitus, with similar success.