The most common hearing problem people experience is hearing loss and a reduction in the ability to hear conversation, especially when in a crowded room with lots of background noise. Far less common is a condition called hyperacusis where sounds are perceived as louder than they actually are, uncomfortably so.
Imagine a noise you hear every day, like the sound of your alarm clock in the morning, suddenly becomes so loud that it hurts your ears. You go to the bathroom to turn on the faucet only to find the sound of running water is as loud as water being released from a dam. That would be pretty disturbing, wouldn't it? That's what people with hyperacusis experience, an unusual sensitivity to sounds that wouldn't bother most people.
What causes hyperacusis? Some people who develop this condition were exposed to an unusually loud noise around the time the symptoms began such as firecrackers, a loud rock concert, or the sound of a gunshot. Hyperacusis is also more common in people who work in a loud environment. Other possible triggering events include head injury, a viral infection of the inner ear or a head injury. People who suffer from other neurological conditions like migraines, Lyme disease, depression, seizures, and chronic fatigue syndrome are also more susceptible.
The underlying problem in hyperacusis is the way the brain processes sound. Although there's no cure for this condition, counseling and acoustic therapy, a type of therapy that retrains the part of your brain that processes sound and helps reduce sensitivity to sound can help relieve the symptoms.
What should you do if you think you have hyperacusis? Schedule an appointment with a hearing care professional for a hearing test and complete evaluation. If left untreated, hyperacusis can be a stressful and sometimes debilitating condition. Fortunately, help is available.