Noise sensitivity is a high level of sensitivity to everyday noises that are not a problem for healthy people. It is often the result of trauma, stress or some other injury.
What is noise sensitivity?
According to Beautyphoon, noise sensitivity (hyperacusis) is a disorder that involves oversensitivity to certain frequency ranges of environmental noise.
A person suffering from noise sensitivity finds everyday sounds intolerable and very loud, which other people have no problem with. Noise sensitivity can be the product of injury to the hearing organ or inner ear. Other disturbances in the nerve tracts between the ear and the brain can also be considered as a cause.
A nervous system or brain disorder may also be suspected. In this case, noise sensitivity would be a purely neurological problem and would interfere with the brain’s reception and processing.
Serious forms of noise sensitivity are very rare, but milder forms affect many people. They are often the result of prolonged illness, stress or related trauma such as tinnitus.
The most common cause of noise sensitivity is exposure to extremely high decibel levels. Some people become sensitive to noise very suddenly, for example after a gun has been fired, an accident (car accident with an airbag), very loud noises, use of drugs that stimulate sensation, Lyme disease, Meniere’s disease, temporomandibular dysfunction, head injury or surgery.
Other people are born sensitive to noise, develop semicircular canal dehiscence, have a history of ear infections, or come from families with hearing problems. Noise sensitivity is a very common side effect of long-term abuse of phencyclidine.
Symptoms, Ailments & Signs
Increased sensitivity to noise – also known as hyperacusis – can manifest itself in aggression, irritability or stressed nerves. Increased sensitivity to everyday noises occurs for a variety of reasons. These can usually be hidden. In the case of acute noise sensitivity, however, the noises are so urgent that the person concerned feels overwhelmed by them.
The fact that people are normally able to partially block out the noise level they are used to makes it clear that sensitivity to noise is a subjective feeling. Increased sensitivity to noise can mean the loss of the normally functioning filtering possibilities in the brain. Increased sensitivity to noise can also result from an increased noise level.
The symptoms are the same for both causes. There is a disturbing perception of noise. As a result of this increased perception, those affected are overstimulated, angry, aggressive or stressed. The condition can be temporary or permanent. If symptoms of noise sensitivity persist, the affected person should seek medical advice.
Persistent sensitivity to noise can make those affected more jumpy. Headaches or earaches may occur. Tinnitus can develop in one or both ears. In severe cases, noise-induced hearing loss can occur. This is the case, for example, after frequent exposure to loud music or a blast trauma. When registering the symptoms of increased noise sensitivity, those affected should eliminate the causes if possible.
Diagnosis & History
The diagnosis of noise sensitivity refers to the severity of the symptoms and signs. Those affected are suddenly bothered by noises that were previously unproblematic or that do not bother other people.
You may complain of pain or other irritation. People may have an irritated and red eardrum, or an eardrum that is loose or very tight. An audiologist will probably test level limits for pain and discomfort on both sides. This procedure begins with very soft tones that gradually increase and become louder. If the tolerance threshold falls below 90 dB for sounds and 95 dB for voices, acute sensitivity to noise is usually assumed.
However, sensitivity is very individual and there is no objective test for sensitivity to noise. These tests should be repeated regularly as the causes and manifestations of sensitivity can vary. Psychological factors such as stress, fear and excitement often play an important role here.
Noise sensitivity can cause various complications. First of all, high sensitivity to noise can cause stress. Insomnia and viral diseases can occur immediately. In the long term, stress disorders such as stomach and intestinal problems, cardiovascular diseases such as high blood pressure and cardiac arrhythmias as well as migraines and tension headaches can develop.
In addition, existing diseases such as diabetes or neurodermatitis can worsen, which can lead to further complications. Mental illnesses such as burnout, anxiety disorders and depression can also develop. The inner restlessness and nervousness also increases. Existing diseases such as ADD and ADHD can occur more frequently and lead to further complications.
In the long term, a pronounced sensitivity to noise represents a significant burden for those affected, which can cause further physical and psychological problems. Complications can also arise when treating sensitivity to noise.
For example, sleeping pills and stress-reducing drugs can cause side effects that can intensify the existing symptoms over time. Avoidance strategies can also lead to social exclusion, which usually worsens well-being. Professionally supported treatment is therefore essential for noise sensitivity.
When should you go to the doctor?
Noise sensitivity is often harmless and goes away on its own after a while. If the hypersensitivity persists for more than a few weeks or even gets worse over time, the person affected must consult a doctor. In particular, if the noise sensitivity leads to headaches, irritability or a general feeling of being unwell, a doctor’s visit is indicated. If the complaints occur immediately after attending a concert or another situation in which those involved were exposed to a high volume, the doctor’s practice or hospital must be consulted on the same day.
Basically, if you have increased hearing sensitivity, you should go to the doctor as soon as you develop mental or physical problems. People who have a long history of repeated ear infections are best advised to speak to their doctor if they show signs of noise sensitivity. In addition to the general practitioner, an ear specialist can be consulted. Accompanying this, behavioral therapy and psychotherapy are useful, always depending on the cause, type and severity of the symptoms.
Treatment & Therapy
Although there is still no invasive method to surgically correct noise sensitivity, there are a number of methods that can help those affected to live with their disorder and slowly reduce their sensitivity to certain sounds.
In most cases, these methods include acoustic therapy or targeted relearning of the sensation. These therapies aim to reaccustom the affected person to environmental noise by exposure to certain sounds and to influence their psychological and physical response to it.
The accompanying behavioral therapy aims to influence the patient’s attitude and handling of the noises. Acoustic therapy, on the other hand, reduces sensitivity in slow steps. To carry out this treatment, there are special devices that produce continuous noise.
The theory here assumes that regular stimulation with a certain noise in a safe environment prepares the patient to withstand these noises in everyday life. This therapy achieves good results, but takes three months to two years to work.
Outlook & Forecast
Noise sensitivity usually does not result in any major restrictions for those affected. Depending on the severity of the condition, it may be enough to wear earplugs or make structural changes to the home. The most important measure is to avoid loud and disturbing noises. If this is done sufficiently, the prognosis is relatively good. Those affected can pursue their profession without major restrictions and continue to pursue their hobbies.
Sudden sensitivity to noise, such as that caused by a blast trauma, often causes a great deal of stress that needs to be treated with medication. Life expectancy is not reduced by sensitivity to noise. Those affected should make sure that they limit loud noises as much as possible. If the condition is based on a mental illness, it must first be treated. As a result, noise sensitivity often improves.
In the case of persistent symptoms that significantly impair well-being, major changes in everyday life may be necessary. The person concerned may have to change their job or even their place of residence in order to avoid the constant noise pollution. In this case, sensitivity to noise represents a major burden that significantly reduces the quality of life.
Many people describe the onset of noise sensitivity as a result of trauma. Consequently, one should protect oneself from confrontation with high decibel levels. This applies, for example, to attending a concert or rehearsing while playing loud music. Otherwise, early diagnosis and treatment of the noise sensitivity is important so that the sensitivity does not increase further.
Noise sensitivity that has not healed can lead to various symptoms and complications in those affected, which may require ongoing follow-up care. Although these symptoms do not reduce life expectancy, they can have a very negative effect on the patient’s quality of life and lead to significant restrictions in everyday life. Therefore, an examination by a doctor should take place at the first signs and symptoms.
Those affected are very irritable due to their sensitivity to noise and often suffer from severe depression or other mental disorders. Empathetic conversations with friends and family help reduce emotional distress. It is also useful if those affected draw the attention of their social environment to their illness in order to prevent prejudice or misunderstandings.
Because sometimes this can lead to inferiority complexes or reduced self-esteem if this disease persists and restricts the everyday life of the person affected. The symptoms can worsen, especially in stressful situations or during vigorous physical activity, so that the person concerned can no longer concentrate properly. Therefore, the targeted addressing of fellow human beings is an essential element of aftercare in order to master dealing with the disease in the long term.
You can do that yourself
Sensitivity to noise should first be evaluated by a doctor. Together with the doctor, measures can then be developed that can reduce the symptoms in many cases. An intermittent sensitivity to noise, for example due to stress or illness, can be treated with a number of aids.
Earplugs or earmuffs, for example, filter out annoying noises quickly and reliably. In the long term, however, these agents can increase sensitivity to noise. Therefore, the high noise sensitivity should be treated causally. For example, acoustic therapy or targeted relearning of the sensations and reactions to noises have proven effective. As part of these therapies, the ambient noise is linked to positive stimuli, which regulates the psychological and physical reaction to it in the long term. This can be accompanied by behavioral therapy, which teaches the patient how to deal with the noises.
If these measures are ineffective, everyday noise exposure should be reduced as much as possible. Insulating the walls is just as useful here as an enlightening conversation with noisy neighbors or work colleagues. Finally, moving to a quieter area or changing jobs can also help.