Want to reduce sound sensitivity? Find out more
If you’ve ever shivered from hearing nails on a blackboard, then you know how annoying certain sounds can be. Some people have a higher sensitivity to sound, while most people do not seem bothered by excessively loud sounds or very sharp sounds, but there are some people who are sensitive to totally ordinary sounds in everyday life.
Sound sensitivity affects all people but is more common in people with certain forms of hearing loss, such as neurosensory hearing loss or hearing loss associated with aging. In addition, an auditory hypersensitivity may be characteristic of people affected by a persistent sound in the ears or tinnitus.
To combat the unpleasant effects of sounds that cause us pain, it is important to understand the different forms of sensitivity to sound. When we understand the cause of this sensitivity, we can know how to improve the hearing experience.
Types of sound sensitivity
Sensitivity to loud noises
People with impaired hearing usually find loud sounds uncomfortable. Sounds with a frequency between 2000 and 5000 Hz are known to be difficult to hear.
There are 2 reasons:
First, hearing function is affected when exposed to loud noises. Any sound that exceeds 85 decibels can cause hearing loss. These sounds damage the auditory nerves, membranes or hair cells of the ear, so it is logical that we perceive these sounds as unpleasant. Because these sounds are uncomfortable, we are more inclined to change the environment we are in or to reduce the intensity of the sounds, to protect our hearing from exposure to loud noises.
Second, research has shown that the brain responds differently to loud sounds, particularly those between 2000 and 5000 Hz. Although it cannot be fully explained what is really going on, studies have confirmed that a certain part of the brain, the cerebral amygdala, becomes active when we hear sounds of this intensity.
Because the amygdala is responsible for our emotional reactions, this may explain why these sounds can cause a feeling of discomfort, fear or even panic.
Hyperacusis – hypersensitivity to noise
Generally, people can tolerate sounds up to 85-90 decibels before they become sensitive. In cases of hyperacusis, the ability to tolerate sounds is low, so the comfort level in the presence of sounds is lower than normal.
Fortunately, hyperacusis can be treated by wearing hearing aids, which diminish the impact of everyday sounds, including background sound. By reducing sensitivity to sound, carefully programmed hearing aids can make a significant contribution to restoring comfort and reducing the symptoms of hyperacusis.
This type of sound sensitivity generally affects people with hearing loss. When hearing function is reduced, the cause is often the nerves, membranes and hair cells that have been affected. The degree and type of damage will determine which tones and frequencies can no longer be heard.
When we are exposed to sounds we cannot hear certain tones or frequencies due to hearing loss. If they are intensified, they will change their pitch and frequency and can be heard. This sudden exposure to sound is what makes the sound uncomfortable and may explain why people with hearing loss sometimes have an increased sensitivity to sound.
As the sound increases in intensity, the hair cells adjacent to those affected are recruited. If these hair cells are not affected, the hearing function for this pitch and frequency of sound does not change. You may not hear a certain volume on the TV, because at that sound level the cells are affected, but once the volume of the TV increases, the sound may become too loud. This may be due to the fact that at a certain volume the hair cells may be affected, but at the high volume the hair cells recruited may be unaffected. If those cells have not been affected, you may suddenly hear the TV at a high volume, but the sound may be perceived as too loud.
Wearing a properly adjusted hearing aid can reduce this sensitivity to sound. This adjusts the bridge between when sounds are not heard and exposure to too loud, unbearable sounds.
There are people who are simply born with hypersensitivity to certain sounds. Normally, these people are sensitive to sounds that exceed a certain frequency, which varies from person to person. Depending on the level of hypersensitivity, it is possible that the sounds we hear daily become annoying.
Hypersensitivity can be reduced by sensory integration therapy.
People with misophony have a hard time tolerating sounds. Unlike other forms of sound sensitivity, misophony is not limited to certain sounds. With this sensitivity, low-intensity sounds may develop discomfort.
Sound sensitivity treatment
As we can see, there are many causes for sound sensitivity. To make sure you get the right treatment, it’s important to see an audiologist to find out the cause.
Although hearing loss cannot be cured, hearing aids are the right and necessary treatment that will restore the naturalness of your hearing in a pleasant and comfortable way.
These steps give you access to the right treatment for sensitivity that upsets you and is an obstacle to well-being. Regardless of the cause, proper treatment can improve your hearing experience.