Janet Horvath  

Hear No Evil

Janet Horvath
April 16, 2019


Hyperacusis is the collapsed tolerance to normal sound. All sounds are too loud for sufferers of hyperacusis, but sensitivity to sound is NOT hyperacusis. Hyperacusis is a symptom where the person’s abnormal discomfort and intolerance to sound does not improve. Although this condition is more rare than tinnitus, many tinnitus sufferers also have some degree of hyperacusis.

Hyperacusis can occur in the absence of hearing loss. It can occur in one or both ears, and these patients yearn for an escape from sound – for total silence. Imagine being at a movie where the sound track seems to be at the highest volume, or the clattering of dishes, women’s voices, microwave beeps, jingling of keys, someone speaking on the telephone, or the sound of your own voice is intolerable. The volume of the whole world seems to be stuck on high! With hypercusis, the protective mechanisms a normal ear employs to minimize the harmful effects of loud noise are malfunctioning due to noise-induced damage, so noise may seem too loud even with hearing protection. Most hyperacusis patients also experience inner ear pain and a feeling of fullness or pressure.

Although the majority of cases are the result of noise exposure over time, sometimes a sudden burst of noise can do it. Other causes associated with this disorder include Meniere’s disease, migraine, head injury, or surgery to the face or jaw. It is important to be evaluated. Audiograms for hyperacusis sufferers are typically normal but sensitivity levels are well below normal. For example, most people do not experience discomfort until the sound level is above 100 decibels. For hyperacusis patients this level of discomfort is 40 or 50 decibels. Sometimes not all frequencies cause the same level of discomfort, and certain frequencies will be extremely disturbing even at very low volumes.

Many hyperacusis patients have trouble facing the noise of the day and resort to wearing headphones and earplugs. They feel like they must avoid telephone use, tiptoe around their house, and avoid normal activities, let alone play music for a living! Isolation is tempting but can result in a further breakdown of tolerance to sound.

The most successful treatment for hyperacusis is tinnitus-retraining therapy. This involves going to a qualified tinnitus-retraining center. There the patient is fitted with a headpiece that transmits “pink” noise or broadband sound (i.e., very soft sound without the higher frequencies that a typical hyperacusis patient is more sensitive to) just below intolerance levels for several hours a day, to rebuild tolerance to normal environmental noise. Sound desensitization therapy takes months but has been shown to be effective.

Headphones, Ear buds, & iPods Can Be Dangerous To Your Health

How loud can we safely turn up our headphones when we listen to music? Risk varies with the type of headphone you use. A study in 2001 found that the closer to the eardrum the sound is, the greater the risk, as the sound levels are higher closest to the eardrum. Are you ready for a surprise? The study by Fligor found “that you can safely listen to headphones with it set at level six (out of ten) for an hour a day.” (www.rollingstone.com Music Making Fans Deaf?) For ear buds or other in-the-ear headphones, it is half that amount of time – around thirty minutes – at which point you are already at your safe daily dose. How many of us know people who wear them all day? iPods and Sony Walkmans with ear buds can go as high as 130 decibels – the level of a jackhammer. Interestingly, a law has been passed in Europe. Their iPods are capped at 100 decibels.

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Comments (Click to Hide)

The reference to in-ear headphones is completely misinterpreted. On the contrary, in-ear noise isolating headphones are generally recommended by most studies, including Fligor's who concluded that users tend to exceed much less the recommended levels when using in-ear noise isolating headphones. In-ear headphones are more dangerous only if you listen at loud volume levels, but the purpose of noise-isolating headphones is completely the opposite: to allow users to turn down the volume and actually listen at safer volume levels than with normal headphones!

Even the article you mentioned says in fact:

"Five Ways to Save Your Ears

3. Get better headphones: Those that shut out external noise allow you to turn down the tunes. In-ear phones like Etymotic's ER6 ($139) and Shure's E4C ($299) go deep into the ear canal to block pretty much all outside noise".

And at http://www.physorg.com/news80304823.html :

"In a separate study to be presented at the conference, Fligor and Ives observed the listening habits of 100 doctoral students listening to iPods through earphones. When the students were in a quiet environment, they found that only 6 percent of them turned their players to risky sound levels. When in a noisy environment, a dramatically higher 80% of the students listened to the music at risky levels. When they used an "in-the-ear" earphone designed to block out background noise, only 20 percent exceeded sound levels considered to be risky. This suggests, Fligor says, that seeking out quiet environments and using "isolator" earphones designed to block out background noise help listeners avoid the tendency to play music at sound levels that can pose risks to their hearing."
zamolxis on April 16, 2019 at 9:55 AM

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