What Is Hyperacusis? Know All About This Hearing Disorder
Hyperacusis is a rare hearing disorder that can make the patient highly sensitive to even minor sound. Read here to know all about this condition.
Hyperacusis is a rare yet discomforting hearing disorder
- Hyperacusis affects the way your brain perceives sounds
- Some people may experience pain or a feeling of pressure in the ear
- Several conditions are responsible for this serious condition
Loud noises or a sudden bang or blast can annoy almost everyone. However, what if even every day noises that nobody even seems to notice start making you feel uncomfortable? This extreme sensitivity to noise is actually a rare yet discomforting medical condition called Hyperacusis. It is a hearing disorder that affects the way your brain perceives sounds. People suffering from this condition may feel extreme discomfort and even pain from seemingly ordinary environmental sounds such as a ringtone, a kitchen appliance, a vehicle horn or even a loud conversation. This heightened sensitivity to certain sounds varies in severity from patient to patient. In some it manifests as a mild condition that causes only a slight disturbance while in others it can be a devastating disorder.
In some patients, this hearing disorder is also accompanied by other disturbing conditions such as pain in the ear, tinnitus, anxiety and depression. Some people may experience physical pain or a feeling of pressure in the ear along with low tolerance to sounds. For many, this condition becomes a serious challenge as it interferes with their every life and curtails their ability to live and function normally. It may also lead to social isolation.
What is hyperacusis? Know the causes and treatment
Hyperacusis is a relatively less studied subject in medical science. Given the fact that it affects a relatively smaller number of people, studies and researches on this subject are also limited. There is a lack of sufficient epidemiological data on prevalence and incidence of this condition.
Hyperacusis is a condition when your brain starts perceiving certain sound vibrations relayed by the ear differently as compared to other people. So seemingly normal sounds may be perceived as exaggerated or intolerably loud by the brain, leading to a disruption in a person's everyday life. While there is still no clarity on what kind of malfunction in the ear or the brain leads to this condition, experts extrapolate that damage to a part of the auditory nerve or a problem with the normal functioning of central nervous system is behind the condition.
It is known that this sound sensitivity is associated with certain other medical conditions, implying that hyperacusis is more prevalent among people with certain conditions. Evidence suggests that people with Lyme disease, Tay-Sachs disease, Williams syndrome, Meniere's disease, Bell's Palsy and Autism are more likely to develop hyperacusis.
In other cases, people may develop this condition after suffering a head injury, post-traumatic stress disorder or damage to one or both ears due to a medication. People with migraine headaches may also experience heightened sensitivity to certain sounds. However, most common is the association with tinnitus, a condition that involves experiencing a constant ringing or buzzing sound in the ear.
Hyperacusis and its effects on patients
For many people suffering from hyperacusis, life can become extremely difficult. Moreover, lack of awareness among people about this condition implies that patients may experience social insensitivity and disdain. Many patients may experience a complete loss of normalcy and may even find their careers disrupted because of it.
Hyperacusis is usually of two types. Cochlear hyperacusis which is the common form of this condition leads to pain in the ear and a general intolerance to normal environmental sounds. On the other hand, vestibular hyperacusis may cause dizziness, nausea or even loss of balance in patients when they are subjected to certain sounds.
Low tolerance to sounds also brings with it a series of cascading effects including a tendency to stay isolated, mental stress, constant anxiety and even depression. Some patients may even develop phonophobia or fear or normal sounds.
Therapy and Treatment
Since, hyperacusis is generally associated with another conditions, the most important thing to do is to treat the underlying cause. At the same time, patients can switch to auditory therapies that retrain the ear and the brain in sound perception. Sound therapy, somewhat similar to the one prescribed to tinnitus patients is advised to patients with hyperacusis as well. Delivered by a qualified audiologist, this therapy can help retrain the brain's auditory processing system to normalise the environmental sounds that are currently causing an exaggerated response. In this therapy, a patient is made to use a sound device that produces soft and soothing sounds. Accompanied with information counselling, this therapy can over a period of time help the patient regain tolerance to certain sounds. Cognitive-behavioural therapy may also be advised to patients who are experiencing psychological distress, anxiety or depression because of hyperacusis.
It is essential to raise awareness about this condition and educate people about available solutions and therapy that can alleviate symptoms and help patients regain normalcy in life.
(Dr. Vamshi Krishna Biroj (MS ENT) Cresta ENT Speciality Hospital, Secunderabad & Medical Consultant for ENTOD International)
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