Hyperacusis is a rare hearing condition in which a person perceives everyday sounds to be abnormally or uncomfortably loud. The condition can affect one or both ears. In some cases, it occurs suddenly, while in others, it develops gradually over time.

People with hyperacusis may experience physical symptoms, such as pain or discomfort in their ears, jaw, or neck. They may also experience psychological distress that interferes with their work, relationships, and overall well-being.

In this article, we describe what hyperacusis is, including its symptoms, causes, diagnosis, and treatment. We also offer advice on when to see a doctor about hearing issues.

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Hyperacusis is the medical term for increased sensitivity to sounds. People with the condition perceive everyday sounds to be abnormally or uncomfortably loud.

Those with hyperacusis may be unable to tolerate ordinary, everyday sounds, such as:

  • car engines
  • vacuum cleaners
  • running water
  • chewing sounds
  • dogs barking

Some experts believe that there are four categories of presentation: loudness, annoyance, pain, and fear. In all cases, the discomfort occurs in response to quieter sounds that would not ordinarily cause these sensations.

Examples of such sensations include:

  • a sharp, dull, or stabbing pain in the ear, jaw, or neck
  • tingling in the ear
  • a feeling of fullness in the ear

Hyperacusis is just one form of sound sensitivity. Another form of sound sensitivity is misophonia. Whereas hyperacusis results from an issue with the auditory system, misophonia relates to the part of the brain involved in behavior and emotion. Therefore, people with misophonia may find that certain sounds cause them emotional distress rather than physical discomfort.

Hyperacusis is a rare disorder, affecting about 1 in 50,000 individuals.

The condition can develop at any age.

The symptoms of hyperacusis may vary according to the type and severity of the condition.

Hyperacusis can affect one or both ears, and it may cause pain or discomfort in the ears, jaw, or neck. People with the condition may also experience emotional distress.

People with hyperacusis may also experience the following:

The United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS) states that there is no clear cause of hyperacusis. The condition can occur on its own or alongside the following:

The British Tinnitus Association says that hyperacusis does not always lead to tinnitus and that those with tinnitus may not necessarily have increased sensitivity to sound.

According to a 2022 review, a high noise exposure environment can increase a person’s risk of developing hearing sensitivity. This is most likely to occur in musicians who experience prolonged exposure to amplified sounds.

A person who experiences symptoms of hyperacusis may need to visit an audiologist. These medical professionals specialize in diagnosing and managing conditions affecting the auditory system.

An audiologist will begin the diagnostic procedure by asking about a person’s symptoms and medical history. They will then perform a physical exam to check for ear damage and possibly a hearing test to determine a person’s ability to hear sounds of varying frequencies.

However, the University of California San Francisco explains that most people with hyperacusis do not show any hearing loss on hearing tests, even though they may have difficulty understanding speech in noisy environments. Medical professionals refer to this as “obscure auditory dysfunction” or “auditory processing difficulty.”

The following treatment options may help manage hyperacusis:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): A 2019 review notes that CBT can help alleviate the psychological distress people may feel as a result of hyperacusis. A 2022 review notes that this type of therapy is one of the most effective components of hyperacusis treatment.
  • Sound therapy: This treatment involves wearing a noise-generating device that produces a static-like sound called “white noise.” This helps train the brain to accept ordinary sounds. The treatment can take up to 12 months to complete.
  • Surgery: According to the Ear & Sinus Institute, many people with hyperacusis have loose stapes bones in their ears. These bones play a role in conducting sound vibrations to the inner ear. Some people with hyperacusis may undergo a surgical procedure called round and oval window reinforcement, in which a surgeon removes tissue from behind the ear and places it around the stapes bones for support. This can reduce sound sensitivity. Doctors will typically only consider this option if the symptoms are severe and other treatments have not been effective.

Some people may wish to try home remedies to help reduce hyperacusis pain. Examples include:

People with hyperacusis should avoid using ear plugs or ear defenders while carrying out everyday activities. By wearing such devices, they will become accustomed to the reduction in sound levels. As a result, they will become even more sensitive to sounds when not wearing the devices.

Although there is no definitive cure for hyperacusis, treatments are available to help manage the condition. Sound therapy or surgery can be effective in managing the physical symptoms, while CBT can help manage the psychological effects.

The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association states that children may experience hyperacusis and that it may develop following an ear infection or head injury or occur alongside autism. The management process is similar to that for adults.

The NHS advises that people seek medical attention if they feel that everyday sounds are too loud.

Conversely, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggest that a person consults a doctor if they experience any of the following potential signs of hearing loss:

  • ringing in the ears
  • pain when hearing certain sounds
  • difficulty understanding what others are saying in a noisy environment

The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders explains that the following types of medical professionals can help people with hearing issues:

  • Otolaryngologists: These medical professionals help diagnose and treat issues involving the ears, nose, throat, and neck. They may also provide a referral to an audiologist.
  • Audiologists: These medical professionals hold a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in audiology. They have also completed training to recommend and fit hearing aids.
  • Hearing instrument specialists: These specialists provide hearing aids to people who have a hearing problem. Most have completed a 2-year apprenticeship, although the exact training program can vary among states in the United States.

Learn more about the types of hearing doctors and when to see one.

Hyperacusis is the medical term for heightened sensitivity to sounds. People with this condition perceive everyday sounds to be louder than how others perceive them.

There is no definitive cure for hyperacusis. However, sound therapy or surgery can help manage the physical symptoms, while CBT can help with the psychological effects.

Anyone who experiences symptoms of hyperacusis or other hearing issues should make an appointment with a doctor. The doctor can help diagnose any issues and provide referrals to other hearing specialists where necessary.