Tinnitus SA was established with support from the South Australian Government.
Most people dislike continuous loud noise, but some people are especially sensitive to ordinary levels of noise. This sensitivity, or reduced tolerance, can take different forms and be caused by different things.
Loudness Recruitment occurs in some ears that have high frequency hearing loss due to disease or damage to the cochlea (the inner ear). Loudness Recruitment refers to the rapid growth of loudness of certain sounds that are around the same pitch of a person’s hearing loss. That is, sounds can be perceived as soft and then with only small increases in intensity they can be perceived as too loud. As people with Recruitment also have hearing loss this means that they may not hear someone speak in a normal voice, but find a raised voice very loud.
For people with hyperacusis, all except the quietest of sounds are uncomfortably loud. Sudden loud sounds can seem explosively loud and cause physical discomfort for some people.
Most hyperacusis is the result of exposure to extreme loud noise, either continuously over a period of time or once only. The person with hyperacusis may find even low intensity sounds (such as the hum of a computer monitor or of a refrigerator) uncomfortably loud. For some people with hyperacusis, the sensitivity is made worse for up to a day following exposure to a loud sound.
Hyperacusis affects some patients with other health problems, such as Lyme’s Disease, chronic fatigue syndrome, Bell’s palsy, head injury and epilepsy. It is also a characteristic of autism; some autistic children find all sounds too loud.
A person with hyperacusis may have normal hearing or some degree of hearing loss and typically has tinnitus, too.
Another form of sound sensitivity is phonophobia – fear that certain sounds or types of sounds will affect the hearing or make tinnitus worse, leading the person to avoid those sounds as much as possible. Sometimes phonophobia develops as a result of hyperacusis. The person becomes afraid of exposure to sounds which seem loud to them and which they think will damage their hearing.
Tinnitus and hyperacusis occur together quite frequently because the same conditions of the auditory system and/or nervous system can underlie both problems, e.g. exposure to excessive noise, anxiety. Tinnitus DOES NOT cause hyperacusis, however, nor does hyperacusis cause tinnitus.
The management of sound sensitivity aims to return the person to a normal sound environment without experiencing discomfort.
There are six components to the management of sound sensitivity:
Tinnitus Retraining Therapy and the Neuromonics acoustic desensitisation protocol have both shown promise for managing sound sensitivity.