by Neil Bauman, Ph.D.
I received an interesting email which read, in part, “My sister’s hearing has increased so much that she wears ear plugs during the day, especially when her children start crying or screaming. Every little sound bothers her ears. She also has some balance problems. If there is inner ear damage, wouldn’t her hearing be reduced, not increase?”
Excellent question. You would think inner ear damage would result in hearing loss and not increased hearing, wouldn’t you? Let me explain.
Your sister does not really have increased hearing. It just seems that way. What has happened is that her perception of sound has changed so that she now perceives normal, everyday sounds as being far too loud.
She has is a condition called hyperacusis. Hyperacusis can be brought on by various things. For example, exposing your ears to loud noise–such as a sudden explosion, or from taking certain ear-damaging drugs. It can also be result from head trauma or even surgery, and possibly by a virus attacking your inner ears.
A somewhat similar condition, called recruitment, only affects hard of hearing people. Recruitment is caused by the reduced dynamic range you get when you lose some of your hearing. However, the results are basically the same–you can’t stand certain normal, everyday sounds any more. They now sound so loud that they hurt.
People who do not have either recruitment (which I have) or hyperacusis don’t have a clue just how loud and painful these everyday sounds appear to be.
To learn more about hyperacusis, what causes it, and more importantly what you can do to help relieve it, point your browser to http://www.hearinglosshelp.com/products/books.htm#hyperacusis.