Most people have heard an abnormally loud or uncomfortable sound at some point. However, when you have a noise sensitivity disorder like hyperacusis, even everyday sounds can cause a reaction that makes them difficult or impossible to tolerate. In fact, hyperacusis can make it challenging to go out in public or new environments.
In the general population, hyperacusis is fairly rare. While estimates vary, it likely affects approximately 1 in 50,000 individuals. However, 50%-70% of people with autism have a decreased tolerance of sound at some point in life.
If you or someone you love has autism and sound sensitivity, Kevin Sharim and his talented team of audiologists at Sharp Hearing Care Professionals can help. It starts with a comprehensive audiology consultation to reach a diagnosis, and then we can create a personalized strategy to manage your sound sensitivity.
Autism and hyperacusis
Nearly 90% of people with autism have some form of sensory hypersensitivity or hyposensitivity. More simply put, they either have an increased or decreased sensitivity to sensory input — like smell, touch, and sound. This can lead them to process sensory information differently than non-autistic people, increasing their chances of noise sensitivity disorders like hyperacusis.
There are several types of sound sensitivity disorders, but hyperacusis has direct links to the auditory system. As a result, when you hear something and the sensory input gets sent to your brain for processing, the brain perceives the sound as disturbingly loud, regardless of its frequency.
Examples of sounds that can be intolerable to a person with hyperacusis include:
- Running water
- Chewing sounds
- Vacuum cleaners
- The hum of electrical appliances or car engines
- People chatting
- Dogs barking
Even though many of these everyday sounds seem soft, or simply background noise, they can feel unbearable to someone with hyperacusis.
Signs of hyperacusis
When you have hyperacusis, it can affect one or both of your ears. It’s common to have pain or discomfort in your ears, neck, and jaw, and you also may experience emotional distress.
Other symptoms seen with hyperacusis include:
- A fullness in the ears or ringing (tinnitus)
- Problems concentrating
- Challenges performing daily tasks
Living with hyperacusis can also become emotionally overwhelming, leading to mental health issues like anxiety and depression. Without treatment, it can even affect your relationships and cause social isolation.
While there’s no cure for this hearing disorder, there are ways to reduce its symptoms. You might not be able to control how your brain processes sound, but you can undergo therapy and take steps to make the experience more comfortable.
We begin with a comprehensive audiology consultation. This ensures that we reach an accurate diagnosis of hyperacusis and identify what’s behind your symptoms. After confirming hyperacusis, we can make personalized recommendations to help you manage your condition.
There are several approaches for living with hyperacusis when you have autism, such as:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy to learn coping skills
- Having a designated quiet space for when you feel overwhelmed
- Visiting new places during the most quiet time of day
- Focusing on a distraction when you can’t avoid triggers, like doodling
- Getting customized earmolds that help filter sounds but still allow you to hear
- Using noise-canceling headphones as directed
Our team could also suggest a sound generator, which transmits soothing sounds to a device that’s similar to a hearing aid. Listening to these gentle, low-level sounds for specific amounts of time can help desensitize your auditory nerves and brain to sound, making it less reactive.
Is noise sensitivity interfering with your daily life? Contact the Sharp Hearing Care Professionals location nearest you to schedule a hearing evaluation today.