What is hyperacusis?
Hyperacusis is a condition where a person has reduced tolerance and increased sensitivity to specific sounds and sound levels that are not normally regarded as loud.
Barking dogs, laughter, ringing telephones, water running from a tap, or noisy vacuum cleaners are common, everyday sounds. Not very loud - and certainly not harmful. At least not to the normal ear, that is.
But for people with hyperacusis, these everyday sounds can cause pain, frustration, and even terror. Children have been seen running away from specific sounds, that were distressing to them - but which are harmless to everybody else.
A lack of understanding is another problem for individuals who have this problem. Most often, they are accused of being oversensitive, even hysteri-cal. "Your hearing is too good," is a common misconception.
Hyperacusis is not “super hearing”
People with hyperacusis have perfectly normal hearing. They don’t have abnormally good hearing and they are not able to hear "better than anybody else". But what they do have is reduced tolerance and increased sensitivity to specific sounds and sound levels that are not normally regarded as loud. For some patients, the problem arises at sound levels as low as 25 dB - making them unable to be diagnosed properly by the normal, acoustic testing equipment at the doctor's clinic, since such equipment operates at much higher sound levels - 80 dB or more.
Treatment of hyperacusis
Experts on this rare hearing problem advise the families and their doctors first and foremost to be understanding. Being the victim of "acoustic torture" is bad enough in itself, but the lack of understanding and empathy from the family and doctors alike only makes things worse.
Hyperacusis can be a particularly difficult problem for children as they may have a hard time getting adults to understand that covering your ears and running away from the classroom is not just "being naughty" - but is for a sound reason.
Too little noise can worsen the problem
Doctors are quick to point out that the cure for hyperacusis is neither silence nor earplugs. On the contrary - too little noise can worsen the problem, gradually making the hyperacusic patient unable to lead a normal life. Instead, people suffering from reduced tolerance to sounds - hyperacusis - should be surrounded by low-level, pleasant sounds at all times: Radios at low volume or even a special noise generator can be used for constant stimulation to help the brain readjust to normal everyday sounds.