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The technical medical definition of hyperacusis is “abnormally acute or sensitive hearing that could lead to pain and irritability.” The practical definition is that it is anxiety and pain produced by just being in a normal environment.
This phenomena is described as a situation where an individual hears sounds louder than they actually are, and as a result becomes very sensitized, and can even have so much discomfort it creates pain.
Now, we are all familiar with loud noises such as jet engines, race cars and guns that will hurt our ears, but could you imagine getting pain from everyday noises such as your eyes moving in your head, or hearing yourself chewing, or simply walking on the ground hearing the repeated steps? How about the fact when you leave your house, you don’t know where the next noise could be coming from, and that could certainly be anxiety producing if that noise would cause you to have some discomfort.
Believe it or not, there are millions of people in the United States who have this affliction, and basically it is a problem with the inner ear, as well as the brain centers that process that information and allows us to hear without problems in normal situations.
The mechanism of the disease is not well understood, but there is a feeling that there is a dampening device that normally works in the ear that will allow someone to ignore other noises and not be uncomfortable, and allow oneself to focus on the task at hand.
When this disease occurs, the brain centers alter the sound processing signal, and make it much louder than it normally is, thus causing the problem.
To make matters worse, people who have hyperacusis also have a hearing loss, which is a double whammy.
In the past few years, another problem causing this type of sensitivity has been discovered, and is better understood, and it is called “superior canal dehiscent syndrome.” In sports news, there have been a couple of articles about a sports broadcaster who suffered with this problem, and it interfered with his daily work. Imagine being in a stadium with screaming fans, how uncomfortable it was for him. He had some surgery recently, and we will see in the next few months if that helps him.
In the typical case of hyperacusis, a cure it is not really a goal, but treatment, and reducing anxiety and fears, as well as simply using some ear plugs to muffle sounds sometimes is adequate. The audiologist who is a specialist in hearing problems and works closely with ear, nose and throat doctors also can do retraining therapy to try to downplay the effects of this loud noise.
Everything from meditation, use of herbs, and even medications used for seizure activity, anxiety and depression have been tried to conquer this problem.
Much more research and understanding is needed to control this problem that we think affects somewhere between 15 million and 20 million Americans.
If you are interested in any further information in regards to this particular problem, there are a couple of associations that might be helpful and are accessible online. This includes The American Hyperacusis Association and The American Tinnitus Association.
Denis Grillo, D.O., FOCOO, is an ear, nose and throat specialist in Crystal River. Call him at 352-795-0011 or visit CrystalCommunityENT.com.