Hyperacusis is a term that is used to describe intolerance to certain everyday sounds that causes significant distress and impairment in social, occupational, recreational, and other day-to-day activities. The sounds may be perceived as uncomfortably loud, unpleasant, frightening, or painful. Hyperacusis usually affects both ears but Hashir’s pioneering research which was published in the International Journal of Audiology (2017) shown that about 13% of patients may experience hyperacusis in only one ear (unilateral). Special considerations need to be taken into account when treating unilateral hyperacusis.
In patients with hyperacusis it seems that neurons that normally respond at higher sound levels begin to respond to sounds with lower levels, leading to the perception of increased loudness. Hyperacusis typically is characterised by negative emotional reaction to environmental noises or sound in general. When a sound induces negative emotions, such as anxiety, fear, annoyance, anger, etc. then the auditory system prioritise that sound and enhances its perception leading to the experience of hyperacusis. For majority of people who have hyperacusis there is no other underlying health condition.
The aim of the therapy is to help the patient to modify their cognitive reaction to sound in order to minimise the hyperacusis-related distress they experiencing. Once the distress caused by hyperacusis is eliminated, the improvement in the actual sensitivity to sound will follow.
Recent research published in the American Journal of Audiology (2018) showed that on average in patients who receive hyperacusis-focused cognitive therapy, the impact of hyperacusis on their life is significantly reduced from 50% to 30%. Once the impact of hyperacusis on patient’s life is minimised, the improvement in the actual sensitivity to sound will follow. For details of the research on hyperacusis-focused cognitive therapy see the research page.