Some people with tinnitus or fibromyalgia also have some hyperacusis. Everyday sounds feel painful or annoying. These are sounds that don’t bother other people like water running, doors closing or regular conversation. It is as if the volume of the world is stuck on high. One difficulty in my experience is that hyperacusis is often not considered real by some lay people (e.g. insurance companies). It makes it harder to cope when people don’t believe you really have a problem. Research suggests that just like tinnitus, hyperacusis comes from the hearing and emotion systems. Like the sounds of silence (tinnitus) comes from overactivity, increased sound loudness (hyperacusis) also comes from overactivity. Even the types of treatment are similar including sound enrichment, mind enrichment and hearing protection management. Formal treatment is available through tinnitus clinics or tinnitus specialists,
I have mild hyperacusis. But I know how important it is not to avoid sound. Our ears can handle it. Ears are built to process a range of sound from very soft to loud. Overprotecting the ears by avoiding sound or wearing too much hearing protection can make hyperacusis (and tinnitus) worse. If the sound is hazardously noisy, I make sure to use appropriate hearing protection. For people that are bothered by everyday loud sounds that are not a noise hazard, there are special types of hearing protection (e.g. filtered earplugs) that let soft sounds through but screen out any loud or sudden sounds. This can help make life more comfortable for sensitive ears as they go through the treatment process. For example, a sound sensitive teacher could wear this type of protection and it would let them hear regular classroom sounds but soften the school bell or soften a child’s scream or yell. They kick in automatically just like glasses that automatically shade over for bright light.
A wonderful audiologist and tinnitus specialist I know shared an interesting website with me. It is by a psychologist named Elaine Aron and is about highly sensitive people (www.hsperson.com). According to her website, approximately 15 to 20% of the population are highly sensitive. She encourages that we are not abnormal, we are not alone, and we need to take care of ourselves. I definitely score highly sensitive on this website’s self test. I find it interesting that the prevalence for high sensitivity is similar to hyperacusis prevalence in the general population. I wonder if many people with fibromyalgia, tinnitus and/or hyperacusis would also be considered highly sensitive?
Jan L. Mayes ©2010