Treating hearing sensitivity
By Dr. Dipl. -Psych Sarah Fitzroy – English Psychologist in Berlin
What is hearing sensitivity
We are constantly exposed to many different types of sensory information in our daily lives. Many of us are able to filter out sounds and this does not impact on our daily lives. However, certain audiovestibular conditions can make it impossible to filter out background noises and sound sensitivity to noises can occur. A condition known as hyperacusis means that sounds of a certain decibel or pitch can trigger anxiety, often resulting in a fight or flight response. This can mean that an avoidance cycle is set up towards the noise which can maintain the anxiety that is experienced. For example, some one may avoid busy and noisy places where they expect to hear the noise or wear headphones which can increase noise sensitivity in the long term. Hypervigilance to sounds can also occur which means that sounds are often perceived as louder as someone is constantly expecting to hear them. The cause of hyperacusis is unknown but can be associated with trauma responses to sound stimuli due to the hypervigilance. Those with neurodevelopmental conditions with sensory sensitivities such as Autism may also be more prone to experiencing hyperacusis. Those with hyperacusis can benefit from learning relaxation strategies to calm the nervous system and then slowly become exposed to sounds using a stepped approach.
Another less well known condition named ‘Misophonia’ which is derived from the Greek words ‘misos’ (hatred) and ‘fonos’ (sound). Misophonia results in dislike of specific sounds from others such as coughing, drinking, eating and even typing on a keyboard. Someone with Misophonia can experience strong emotions when they hear these sounds and as with hyperacusis, they may experience a fight or flight response.
Misophonia is usually associated with sounds from those one spends more time with such as family members or friends. Sufferers of misophonia often report having to eat meals alone or avoid other social settings that involve eating and drinking. Those with misophonia can often benefit from a systemic approach as misophonia often has systemic effects on other family members as well as learning relaxation techniques; emotional coping strategies and getting used to disliked sounds in a stepped approach via graded exposure.
How hearing sensitivity is percieved
Tinnitus results from a sensitivity to sounds within the ear itself and sufferers often experience buzzing or ringing sounds in the ear. Some tinnitus sufferers also report hearing echoes of certain sounds after being around loud noises and being in large rooms can be a trigger. Tinnitus can also be experienced more in quieter environments where there are fewer distractions from other noises.
Tinnitus can often cause distress and result in sleep difficulties and ability to concentrate. There are known exact causes of tinnitus but it has been known to occur after accidents, trauma, illness, medical operations and long periods of stress. Tinnitus treatment often involves learning relaxation, mindfulness skills and distraction strategies.
Those with tinnitus may also benefit some sleep strategies if sleep is affected. There is currently no cure for tinnitus but sufferers often experience a reduction in symptoms through learning these management strategies. People with tinnitus can also experience hyperacusis in some situations..
Dr Dipl. -Psych Sarah Fitzroy is an English speaking psychologist in Berlin
To go deeper on the topic of hearing sensitivity
If you would like further information or support from any of these audiovestibular conditions, then you can visit the British Tinnitus Association which provides information about both hyperacusis and tinnitus. The Charité Hospital in Berlin also has a specialised tinnitus department: . You may also benefit from a psychology EMDR intervention if the sound sensitivity is trauma related. For further information about misophonia, you can visit this website which also provides information about support groups
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