Have you ever experienced an emotional reaction to a sound and not known why? Sound sensitivity is a complex condition and can vary in its forms, manifesting in different ways for different people. It can affect people of all ages, with some cases just being a minor nuisance, but for others, it can have a major impact on their life. There are three main types of sound sensitivity – we want to break them down and give people a better understanding of them:
Hyperacusis is the term used to describe when an individual is experiencing sensitivity to everyday sounds. It can be brought on gradually or can occur suddenly if you experience a traumatic life event unexpectedly. Some of the common triggers include:
- People chewing with their mouth open, nail-biting or people talking with their mouth full
- Loud breathing such as snoring or yawning
- A dog barking, claws scratching or a pet licking their fur
- Heavy equipment sounds such as lawn mowers or air conditioning units
If you have experienced a sudden rush of panic or anger, felt uncomfortable or anxious, experienced pain or felt socially isolated when being around sounds like those listed above, then this may be a sign that you are suffering with hyperacusis.
Misophonia is a similar yet more extreme version of hyperacusis, often described as a hatred for sound. This again is a sensitivity to particular sounds, which could include tapping, alarms or any other repetitive sounds. People that suffer with misophonia often experience an emotional response to these sounds such a raging discomfort or distress. If this is something that you find occurs when hearing a repetitive noise, one way of overcoming it that has been suggested is to actually mimic the sound, helping to distract the mind from the initial noise.
Phonophobia is often counted as a subcategory of misophonia, as it’s also an extreme reaction to sound but is more often described as a fear rather than a hatred. Much like any other phobia, the person fears the sound happening there and then, as well as fearing the sound occurring in the future. It can be a quite debilitating condition as it may result in you feeling isolated in order to avoid hearing a trigger sound – that’s why it’s so important to spot the signs early before it develops to this severity.
Recruitment is the more common form of sound sensitivities and linked to an actual hearing loss. It can cause discomfort, making a noise sound much louder and distorted – even though the noise level has only slightly increased. Although those who suffer with recruitment are experiencing a form of hearing loss, the sensitivity to sound actually occurs when the sound reaches specific pitches, causing an exaggerated perception of the sound to transpire. It can be linked to specific sounds or frequencies, depending on the person and their hearing impairment.
Recruitment is the result of damaged hair cells in your cochlea, they will attempt to ‘recruit’ the non-damaged hair cells in order to hear the specific frequency that you are struggling to hear. This then increases the signal, making the sound appear much louder than normal once it’s reached the brain. The best way to spot this condition before it’s too late is to attend regular hearing tests – prevention is the best form of treatment.
What to do next
If you feel as though your sensitivity to sound is having a significant effect on your life, unfortunately, there is no one known cure but there are certain management techniques. Sound sensitivity can often stem from an underlying cause, so it may be a case of treating that in order to improve your sensitivity to certain sounds.
The first step to take would be to book a free hearing test with your local THCP practice. If the problem continues, visit your GP and they may refer you for CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy).