One of the biggest challenges for people with hyperacusis is hearing protection overprotection. People with H have hearing system hyperactivity in the brain that switches the loudness of the world to high. Regular daily sounds like dishes clattering or voices talking can be painfully loud. Imagine a sound goes off near a person with H and a person without H who isn’t bothered by it. It’s important to realize that the person with H bothered by the sound is actually hearing the sound much louder because of how their brain is processing it. They are not a wuss, crybaby or oversensitive. Their brain amps up the volume so sound is physically painful.
What do you do if something hurts? The logical thing to do is avoid it.
“It hurts when I do this, Doc.”
“Then don’t do it,” is the classic answer.
So people with H usually end up using hearing protection like earplugs and/or earmuffs to block out unwanted everyday sound that is not hazardously noisy. They often try to find the hearing protection with the highest noise reduction rating to make everything as soft as possible. This is hearing overprotection. Unfortunately it only makes brain hyperactivity worse and H worse.
Imagine being locked in a cell with no light for a week. Only darkness to see. When the person gets out, light is painfully bright. Too much darkness made their eyes oversensitive to light. With normal light exposure, vision sensitivity returns to normal. Too much silence causes the same problem for H hearing sensitivity. Part of H therapy is weaning off hearing protection and using sound therapy—soft comfortable relaxation sound—until the hearing system hyperactivity settles down.
But this leaves a big problem for people with H. What if they’re out and about, and an unexpected loud sound happens. They don’t want to hear it. They don’t want to flare H up. What should they do? One option is modern high fidelity level dependent earplugs. This type of protection cuts loud sound—including hazardously loud—but allows safe soft to moderate volume sound through.
These are often called musician’s earplugs. Instead of distorting music or speech, these earplugs turn down the volume like turning down the volume on a stereo. Keeping speech easy to hear. Styles include low cost pre-molded (~$20) to higher cost custom molded fit by an audiologist or hearing health professional (~$200). Professionally fit custom molded earplugs can last up to 5 years. The pre-molded are also re-useable if taken care of. More expensive electronic earplugs that need a battery are also available ($200+); only use a trusted manufacturer since some products might not cut loudness as claimed. Never get earplugs from a retailer/manufacturer that wants you to DIY your ear impressions; this is very risky and can cause serious ear and hearing damage.
Image a school teacher with H. By wearing high fidelity musician’s earplugs, they can hear fine at school. But if a child yells, a fire alarm bell goes off or a noisy message comes through the PA system, the loudness will be cut automatically. Imagine a person with H going to the mall. If a retail store has piped in music that is too loud (which is a whole ‘nother blog) or there is a sudden unexpected loud noise, the loudness is cut automatically.
No more fear or anxiety. No more “what if” there’s a loud sound. These earplugs keep sound safe, comfortable—and most importantly—don’t overprotect hearing. Using high fidelity earplugs will not make H worse even if used regularly. There is no overprotection problem. I’ve used custom molded vented musician’s earplugs and pre-molded high fidelity earplugs. I like both. I even use my pre-molded for watching movies on TV in case there’s an unexpected loud sound e.g. gunshot.
If you have H and are worried about overprotecting your ears, consider high fidelity musician’s type earplugs as a realistic, inconspicuous, practical option that should not make H worse.
Photo Credit David Werbrouck at Unsplash
Jan L. Mayes MSc Aud(C) RAud writes horror fiction and non-fiction, and is an international Eric Hoffer Award winning author, blogger and audiologist specializing in ghosts, noise, tinnitus-hyperacusis, hearing health education and plotting murders.