Hyperacusis describes an increased sensitivity to sounds that others would not perceive as excessively loud, often resulting in pain or discomfort. For example, while someone with normal hearing may not be bothered by the noise levels of common household appliances, food sizzling on a hot stove, congested city traffic, or even group conversations, these may be uncomfortable or intolerable for someone with hyperacusis.

This can lead to emotional distress, heightened anxiety, disrupted sleep, and, in severe cases, social withdrawal and isolation. The Hyperacusis Network reports that this affects one in 50,000 people, both children, and adults. Many of these individuals also experience tinnitus (ringing, whistling, or buzzing in the ears).

There are multiple presumed causes, including traumatic brain injury, certain viral infections, prolonged exposure to loud sounds, and damage from medication toxic to the ear. While there’s no known cure, there are effective treatment options to help manage symptoms and lessen their impact on daily life.

Though it may seem counterintuitive, it’s best to avoid the excessive use of hearing protection because it can cause sounds to be experienced even more intensely once earplugs or headphones are removed.

Through controlled sound therapy utilizing wearable sound-generating devices, patients acclimate to steady, low-level noise that gradually increases in loudness over time, often the span of multiple weeks, thus retraining the brain to receive and process sound in a more manageable way.

If you think you may have hyperacusis, you don’t have to deal with it alone. Schedule a consultation with a Tuned audiologist to discuss your symptoms and receive a comprehensive hearing screening, which includes measuring your uncomfortable loudness level, the level at which sounds begin to cause discomfort.

This will provide the audiologist with valuable insight into your hearing sensitivity so they can direct you toward treatment strategies best suited to your needs.

The author, Madeleine Campbell, is a Doctor of Audiology candidate at the CUNY Graduate Center and Vice President, Student Academy of Audiology Executive Board