Four Types of Sound Sensitivity



1. HYPERACUSIS: These individuals have a collapsed tolerance to normal environmental sound.  The term commonly used to describe this condition is 'hyperacusis'.  Hyperacusis can come on gradually or occur suddenly where the patient finds themself in a state of crisis.  Patients who have a collapsed tolerance to sound need to have their Loudness Discomfort Levels (LDL's) established by a hearing healthcare professional.  Normal LDL's are in the 85-90+ decibel range.  Patients with hyperacusis would have LDL's well below that level.  The common treatment for hyperacusis is listening to broadband pink noise though sound generators (special hearing aids) which must be ordered through a specially trained doctor or audiologist who administers Hyperacusis (Tinnitus) Retraining Therapy.  The therapy often costs $3000-$4000 (depending on the clinician) and typically is not covered by insurance. 

There are two basic ways to deliver broadband pink noise to your ears.  The best way starts with a clinician who is trained to diagnose the seriousness of your condition, explain to you the dynamics of hyperacusis, test your ears in gentle ways to determine your loudness discomfort levels (LDL), fit you with special hearing aids called noise (sound) generators that deliver broadband pink noise to your ears, monitor your progress and provide directive counseling until you recover.  Treatment usually lasts 6 months.  Clinicians who administer this kind of treatment were trained by Dr. Pawel Jastreboff (Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia).  They are experts in treating hyperacusis and tinnitus patients.  Their protocol is called Tinnitus Retraining Therapy (also know as TRT) and it has significantly helped tinnitus and hyperacusis patients recover.  To learn more about TRT you might consider reading Dr. Jastreboff's book "Tinnitus Retraining Therapy." A list of TRT clinicians can be seen by visiting this website: http://www.tinnitus-pjj.com/referral.html 

The second way one can deliver broadband pink noise to their ears would be to purchase the broadband pink noise CD from the network.  Instead of listening to broadband pink noise through special noise generators (TRT), a similar sound can be delivered to the ear by listening to a pink noise CD.  With this method pink noise is delivered to the ears through a compact CD player (i.e. walkman).  If you use a compact CD player it is very important that you use open air headphones.  More detail is explained in the guideline that comes with this networks pink noise CD.  Pink noise can also be  downloaded from the pink noise CD to an ipod.  The only caution here would be that the pink noise be converted to a WAV or AIFF format.

2. RECRUITMENT: There are many more individuals who have recruitment.  Recruitment is the a rapid growth of perceived loudness for sounds in the pitch region of a person who has hearing loss.  This phenomenon occurs because at some decibel level, the normal hair cells adjacent to the damaged hair cells (corresponding to the frequency of a hearing loss) are "recruited."  At the decibel level at which these normal hair cells "kick in," perceived loudness shoots up rapidly, causing discomfort.  In other words, at one point the person cannot hear the sound because they have hearing loss (in that frequency), then when the sound reaches a certain loudness and/or frequency the person is blown away.  Once they finally hear the sound, it is perceived as far too loud.  Recruitment is a common phenomenon in cultures where the majority of their lives have been saturated with too much noise like our Western culture.  Common treatment is the same as it is for hyperacusis unless the persons hearing loss is so pronounced that listening to broadband pink noise would be of no benefit to them. 

3. HYPERSENSITIVE HEARING (OF SPECIFIC FREQUENCIES): Then there are individuals who are sound sensitive at birth but it is only specific to certain frequencies heard at loud levels (typically above 70 decibels).  It may seem like we are splitting hairs here but remember the key words with hypersensitive hearing are sound sensitive to specific frequencies heard at loud levels.  These frequencies are typically labeled 'problem' frequencies.  Autistic children are good examples of this.  They can tolerate some sound at normal or even loud volumes but some frequencies are difficult to tolerable.  Commonly autistic children, children who are marginally autistic, or non-autistic individuals who have  hyperacute hearing are treated with auditory integration therapy (AIT).  AIT takes regular music and filters out the problem frequencies through a special machine called an audiokinetron.  Somehow this therapy seems to 'retune' their ears and normalizes their hearing tolerances.  The music is listened to at decibel levels which can peak up to 90 decibels.  This creates a problem for the hyperacusis patient.  The therapy is too loud and only worsens the condition of the hyperacusis patient whose Loudness Discomfort Levels have been compromised.  To learn more about the sensory problems associated with autism visit this link: http://www.autism.org.uk/sensory

4. PHONOPHOBIA/MISOPHONIA:

Phonophobia (fear of sound) is an adverse emotional response to sound and often develops with an individual who has a significant collapsed tolerance to sound.  They not only fear the sound of the environment they are experiencing in real time (right now) they worry about the sound that future events of the day or in the near future will produce.  It can significantly interfer with a patients recovery as they seek or complete sound therapy.   Phonophobia can take over ones life and make one feel they need to isolate themselves to survive.  This is a recipe for disaster.  It is critical that we keep our ears active to rebuild our tolerances to sound.  That is why broadband pink noise is so crucial to bringing us back to the mainstream of life.

Misophonia (dislike of sound) is also an adverse response to sound no matter what volume the sound is.  Typically misophonia characterizes an individual who reacts strongly to soft sounds and sometimes is further triggered by seeing the source of the offending sound.  Common examples would include but are not limited to:  the sound of people eating, smacking their lips, sniffing, the sound of certain consonants like p, s, or t, and repetitive sounds.  These individuals do not have a collapsed tolerance to sound which would be evident in a Loudness Discomfort Level (LDL) test.

Hyperacusis is a collapsed tolerance to normal environmental sounds.  If the hyperacusis patient IS also dealing with phonophonia and/or misophonia then their clinician needs to address these issues in addition to treating the patient for hyperacusis.  It is also important to note that a person can have phonophobia and/or misophonia and not have hyperacusis at all.  Sound confusing.  Let's talk...

Let's, for sake of further clarity, discuss come common examples of misophonia.  They are not a separate catagory of sound sensitivity because the issues we are about to talk do not involve loud sounds.   Some individuals are not sensitive to loud sounds (in other words they have normal loudness discomfort levels - LDL's) but they are unable to tolerate the sound of people eating or chewing.  Oddly enough they have no problem tolerating the sound of their own eating.  These individuals have a difficult time eating with their family and friends and some insist on eating all by themselves.  They become irritated or enraged at meals and sometimes.  This is not hyperacusis.   The patients primary goal would be to neutralize or refocus the dislike they have of these specific sounds.  Most of these individuals live very normal lives with the only exception of being unable to tolerate all the dynamics of other people eating.  Often these individuals have been unsuccessful finding any information about this condition.  To the best of our knowledge no articles have been written in any qualified medical journal and no studies or research has been done about this.  Patients seeking treatment from their clinician may have to copy the information from this website to help their doctor understand what is taking place here.  Treatment for these patients comes from clinicians who have a specific protocol for misophonia.  Search the network message board using the word 'misophonia' to learn more about this problem and protocols suggested.  Usually these individuals are sensitive to particular sounds which are not loud in volume.  For example, some individuals have a hearing sensitivity to certain consonants (i.e. s, t, p, c).  Once again, although this is a sound sensitivity issue, this is not hyperacusis.  It is misophonia.

Misophonia is a symptom which is misunderstood.  The word 'misophonia' was invented by Dr. Pawel Jastreboff to help clear some of the misunderstanding.  Aside from a misophonia protocol it is not clear whether broadband pink noise helps the patient improve their dislike of sound.  Some individuals with misophonia have been diagnosed with an obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and have sought treatment from a psychotherapist.  To learn more about misophonia click on the link off our main menu on misophonia.  Further resources include:

This is a link to a website dedictated to misophonia:

http://www.misophonia-uk.org/