What Causes Hyperacusis?

April 26, 2024

Hyperacusis is a condition that causes extreme sensitivity to sound. Individuals with this condition may hear certain sounds like they're unbearably amplified, even if others don't appear to notice them. Things like running faucets, dishwashers, refrigerators, car engines, and loud conversations can all become unbearable. For some patients, the sounds are just a mild irritant. However, others have serious physical reactions like loss of balance and seizures. While hyperacusis only affects one in fifty thousand individuals, there are some conditions and circumstances that can increase an individual's chance of developing it. Most patients aren't born with hyperacusis. Instead, it's caused by a different health issue or disease.

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Meniere's Disease

Meniere's disease is an inner ear disorder that can cause hearing loss and dizzy spells. Most commonly, only one ear is affected, but there have been cases where symptoms appear in both ears. While Meniere's disease is a chronic condition, there are treatments to relieve symptoms. Typically, Meniere's disease appears in individuals ranging from young adults to middle-aged adults. The symptoms involve recurring episodes of vertigo, which make a patient feel like they're spinning. Episodes can last anywhere from twenty minutes to twenty-four hours, and they can cause nausea in severe cases. Patients also typically have some hearing loss, which tends to come and go at first and then progress to permanence. They might also experience tinnitus or a feeling of pressure in their ear. Researchers don't yet know why Meniere's disease develops. The symptoms seem to be caused by an excess of inner ear fluid, but the cause of this hasn't yet been pinpointed.

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Head Trauma

After individuals experience a traumatic brain injury, it's relatively common to develop hyperacusis. The head trauma doesn't need to have been severe. In fact, the mildest and most common type of traumatic brain injury is a concussion. Patients recovering from concussions and more serious injuries might notice environmental sounds are extremely loud and impossible to filter. Many individuals have so much trouble with outside noises that they stay indoors. Any noise is liable to trigger hyperacusis symptoms, but normally-unnoticed noises like electrical humming are particularly susceptible to sensitivity. Hyperacusis patients can talk to audiologists about treatment options. Often, those with traumatic brain injuries can benefit from customized earplugs that dampen noise. Though these earplugs were first designed to protect musicians during loud concerts, they've been adapted for individuals with traumatic brain injuries.

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Excessively Loud Sound

While many cases of hyperacusis are caused by an injury or underlying illness in the body, the condition can also be set off by excessively loud sound. Some patients have developed hyperacusis after hearing one extremely loud sound, like an explosion or gunshot. In addition, the condition can develop over time if individuals are around loud noises for a long period. These noises are typically loud enough to cause hearing damage and tinnitus. If individuals are experiencing sound sensitivity after exposure to an excessively loud sound or sounds, they should make an appointment with an ear, nose, and throat specialist to evaluate your hearing. This kind of doctor can examine the patient's ears to determine if there's physical damage. They can also recommend treatments. When the sensitivity doesn't resolve on its own, sound desensitization therapy may be recommended. This therapy involves listening to quiet sounds and slowly working up to louder sounds.

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History Of Ear Infections

If an individual has a history of ear infections, they might be more susceptible to developing hyperacusis. The most commonly linked infections are viral conditions that affect the facial nerve or inner ear. Viral ear infections usually affect the middle ear, but there's not sufficient research regarding whether middle ear infections increase a person's risk of developing hyperacusis. When the inner ear is affected, the infection might cause patients to lose their balance. An infection-related condition called Bell's palsy also raises an individual's risk of hyperacusis. When not caused by viral infections, Bell's palsy is attributed to trauma to the facial nerve. The condition causes the muscles on one side of an individual's face to droop or stiffen. Bell's palsy sometimes occurs while a patient is recovering from a viral ear infection.

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Lyme Disease

Lyme disease is an illness that occurs when an individual is bitten by an infected tick. While Lyme disease isn't often serious if caught and treated early, the disease can cause severe symptoms and permanent disability if it isn't diagnosed soon enough. If individuals live in an area where Lyme disease is common, they should familiarize themselves with the early symptoms and seek medical treatment should they observe them. The first characteristic symptom is a growing rash usually surrounding the tick bite. After the early symptoms, Lyme disease progresses to the early disseminated stage, which includes multiple headaches, pains throughout the body, numbness in the extremities, enlarged lymph nodes, facial paralysis, vision changes, fatigue, abnormal pulse rates, and fevers between one hundred and 102 degrees Fahrenheit. In the late stage, Lyme disease causes arthritis, total extremity numbness, and disabling neurological disorders that affect cognition and balance. Individuals who have experienced late-stage Lyme disease may be more likely to develop hyperacusis, especially if they have any permanent neurological symptoms.

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