Hyperacusis is a hearing disorder that affects the way an individual's brain processes certain sounds. Certain frequencies or types of sounds may seem far louder and more unbearable to the affected individual than to others. The disorder is sometimes mild and causes only occasional discomfort. For some patients, though, the symptoms are serious enough to cause seizures or a loss of overall balance. Hyperacusis is very rare, affecting only about one in every fifty thousand individuals. The majority of patients who have it also have ringing in the ears (tinnitus). Though hyperacusis is a hearing disorder, it's not always accompanied by hearing loss. Most individuals aren't born with the condition and instead develop it due to certain health issues or diseases.
Intolerance To Sound
Hyperacusis can cause intolerance to sound. Affected individuals don't often experience intolerance to all sound, but certain pitches and frequencies may be worse than others. Sounds are caused by vibrations through the air. When an individual's ears detect these vibrations, they send impulses along a nerve, and their brain converts the information into sound. Individuals with hyperacusis have a brain that exaggerates or confuses certain vibrations. Even when these individuals are hearing the same sounds and receiving the same vibrations as others, their brain processes them differently. This is what causes hyperacusis patients to experience intolerance to sounds that don't bother others. Because of the intolerance to sound, many individuals with hyperacusis might be tempted to wear earplugs or avoid loud social situations. But while these help in the short-term, they can cause issues in the long term. Staying away from sounds makes them seem louder than if individual's desensitized themselves to them. The main way of treating sound intolerance is by gradually building up the ability to listen to certain sounds over time.
Ear pain can occur with more serious forms of hyperacusis. If individuals experience certain sounds at unexpectedly loud volumes, they may experience the same kind of pain that comes from loud noise. It may feel like an aching, ringing, or vibrating deep inside the eardrum. However, some patients have ear pain that goes deeper than this. Researchers have found while hyperacusis can cause sound intolerance, it can also cause sounds to present as painful stimuli. Rather than just causing discomfort, triggering noises can cause stabbing, throbbing, or burning within the ears severe enough to be debilitating. Scientists have discovered the inner ear appears to have pain fibers that can be triggered by hyperacusis vibrations. Hyperacusis patients who have serious ear pain may struggle to improve, and the auditory exposure therapy may not work for them, since they need to build up more than a mental tolerance. Mild and moderate sounds may be intolerable. Scientists are still studying ways to help with this aspect of hyperacusis.