January 7, 2015 by Kathia Faust


Have you ever thought you must have bionic ears because you hear so well, even too well? So well that certain environmental sounds are unbearable? You might have what is known as “hyperacusis”.

Hyperacusis can be defined as a heightened intolerance to common sounds in the environment. This phenomenon is characterized by the abnormal perception of sound intensity by someone with normal hearing. Affected individuals often overreact (discomfort, irritability, ear pain, etc.) to normal everyday sounds that are tolerated well by others—for example, a siren, applause, dishes rattling together or a hairdryer. For these people, noisy public settings like restaurants, shopping centres and performance venues can prove a bit of an ordeal. 


People of all ages can experience hyperacusis, which most frequently affects both ears. It can be caused by several factors, all of which are still debated in the literature. The most common hypothesis is damage to the auditory system, which does not necessarily affect hearing. Such damage could be caused for example by prolonged exposure to noise, acoustic trauma, repetitive ear infections or the side effects of ototoxic medications. In some cases, hyperacusis is not linked to the auditory system. In fact, some attribute it to a head injury, concussion, post-traumatic stress or even neurological conditions such as epilepsy, migraines or depression. In short, there are numerous possible causes. As such, the difficulty in clearly identifying the origins of the issue is common—something to keep in mind.


Very often, sufferers’ first reaction is to protect themselves from the slightest noise by wearing earplugs. However, experts agree that this solution is far from efficient. In fact, reducing one’s exposure to noise or depriving the ears of auditory stimulation through the excessive use of hearing protection could aggravate the problem. Instead, sufferers are recommended to not avoid environmental sounds completely, since this can hinder their ability to progressively rehabilitate the central auditory system to perceive sound intensity normally. 

For more information on hyperacusis, consult an audiologist at one of the Lobe clinics.