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Gail Linn, MA, CCC-A
Potomac Audiology


Hyperacusis is a rare hearing disorder that causes individuals to perceive the normal sounds of life as too loud. Sounds like paper rustling, dishes clanking and normal conversation become unbearable. Many individuals with hyperacusis become house bound in their avoidance of sound. Most people with hyperacusis have normal hearing and their condition is often accompanied with tinnitus or “ringing” in the ears.
Sound is measured by decibels (dB) and that scale is measured from -10 dB to 120 dB on an audiometer. 0 dB is an extremely soft sound such as the rustling of leaves and 100 dB is extremely loud; a motorcycle or lawn mower would be in that range. Normal speech is around 55 to 60 dB. An audiologist can measure a persons Loudness Discomfort Level (LDL) either with speech or tones. Most people will describe sounds as being too loud at 85 to 90 dB. A person with hyperacusis will describe too loud at much lower levels 60 to 65 dB.
While we dont know what causes hyperacusis, we do know some diseases and disorders that are linked to hyperacusis; Bells Palsy, chronic fatigue syndrome, Lyme Disease, Menieres disease, post-traumatic stress syndrome. The onset of hyperacusis has been related to head trauma, viral infection of the inner ear and surgery of the face and jaw. The Hyperacusis Network (www.hyperacusis.net) reports that 1 in 50,000 people have hyperacusis and 1 in 1,000 people who have tinnitus also suffer from hyperacusis to one degree or another.
The Hyperacusis Network provides a wonderful website that explains this disorder in greater detail and has a message board where people can communicate with one another on their own experiences.
Depending on the cause, hyperacusis can get better over time. Often people with hyperacusis wear earplugs to reduce the loudness of their environment. This actually makes the problem worse by lowering a persons LDL or perception of sounds being too loud. A more effective treatment is called Sound Desensitization. This treatment can involve wearing “sound generators” that look much like a hearing aid that increase the persons tolerance for sound or headphones that deliver music and other sounds that are designed to increase tolerance. There are other experimental treatments such as biofeedback, relaxation therapies, acupuncture to name a few.
More research is needed to uncover the cause(s) of hyperacusis in order to develop effective therapies. Currently, patients have to find a medical professional that is willing to work with them in developing a strategy that helps them negotiate the noisy world that we live in today.

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