RELATED ISSUES

What is hyperacusis?

This is an increased sensitivity to ordinary environmental sounds that is experienced as reduced sound tolerance.  The symptom can be a minor nuisance for some but a life-altering problem for others.  Patients who have it will experience everyday sounds as intrusively loud, uncomfortable and sometimes even painful.  In the general adult population less than 2% experience hyperacusis. 

There are a few medical conditions that have hyperacusis as a symptom so it is important to seek a doctor’s opinion at some stage.  Exposure to sudden loud noise can trigger hyperacusis.  In some cases there is a negative life event that appears to be associated with the onset.  For many people no clear cause can be identified.

Audiologists who have an interest in tinnitus management provide treatment for hyperacusis.  Educational counseling is important as well as training in relaxation techniques.  Sound therapy can be administered and the use of cognitive behavioural therapy strategies is also useful.  The Hyperacusis Network is a valuable resource for information, participating in discussion forums, purchasing sound therapy CDs or downloads.  Go to www.hyperacusis.net

Key points:

  • Most people with significant hyperacusis also have tinnitus.  The link between the two is not absolute but it is possible to have one condition without the other.
  • While most people with hyperacusis try to avoid loud sounds this can be counterproductive. 
  • It is sensible to use ear protection when doing something that is really noisy such as DIY around the house.  However it is inappropriate to use earplugs or muffs when doing something that is not really noisy.

Do children have tinnitus?

This is a neglected area that is currently receiving attention as Audiologists becomes more aware of the presence of tinnitus in younger patients.  Exact prevalence data are not known but studies find that some form of tinnitus experience is fairly common.  It may be twice as common in children with hearing loss compared to children who have normal hearing.  It is thought there may be a link between otitis media (middle ear infections) and tinnitus.  Most children are not bothered by tinnitus but they are puzzled about its presence.  They do not know why they hear sounds in their ears; they may believe there is actually something there such as bees, rice crispies or crinkling paper strips.  These children worry but do not know how to express what they sense.

Parents are often unaware that their children have tinnitus and it is frequently the Audiologist who identifies it when s/he assesses the child’s hearing for the first time.  The parents do however report sleep difficulties, that their children demand stories or music, maybe even the TV at night; their children may show distress if they are in quiet or noisy environments.  Some children have patchy listening patterns in class and have difficulty concentrating.

Key points:

  • Children generally do not spontaneously tell others about their tinnitus and when they do their descriptions will be in unfamiliar terms.
  • Children can have a variety of worries about tinnitus.
  • Older children are more reluctant to tell people about tinnitus as they do not want to appear different from their peers.