Posted on: January 18, 2012

What is Hyperacusis?

Hyperacusis is a term used to describe a general oversensitivity of the hearing so that everyday environmental sounds appear loud, intrusive and sometimes painful to the person affected. Often, children with hyperacusis have normal levels of hearing. A Deafness Research UK study suggests that 6% of children may suffer with oversensitivity to noise although certain groups of children seem to be particularly affected by hyperacusis, for example those with Autism Spectrum Disorder, Williams’ syndrome and Down’s syndrome. Many children with hyperacusis also have tinnitus.

Are there other types of sound intolerance?

Yes. Hyperacusis is used to describe a general oversensitivity of the hearing to all everyday sounds. If dislike or fear is specific to a particular sound, then the term phonophobia is used. Recruitment is used to describe a specific form of reduced sound tolerance in people who have a hearing loss.

What should I do if my child suffers from over-sensitivity to sound?

If your child wears hearing aids then they should be programmed taking into account any recruitment so that sounds are not amplified above the level comfortable for the child. If a baby or young child appears to startle or be upset by loud noises with their hearing aids in the audiologist should adjust the hearing aids to ensure that sound levels are comfortable to wear.

If your child doesn’t wear hearing aids and/or appears to have normal hearing levels then the first thing to do is ask your GP for a referral to an audiologist for a full assessment of their hearing. If the hearing tests are normal then your audiologist or GP can arrange for you to see a paediatrician who specialises in audiology or an audiovestibular physician (doctor who specialises in hearing and balance problems). The best course of action for each child depends exactly on their circumstances and needs. For some children a simple explanation of hyperacusis and knowing that they aren’t alone and lots of people experience it is enough to reassure them. For those childen who are very affected by their hyperacusis (and tinnitus if they have both) then they will be helped by specialist help from a paediatric audiology team with experience of childhood hyperacusis and tinnitus. Following assessment they will use a combination of techniques including an auditory desensitisation programmeTinnitus Retraining Therapy (TRT) and cognitive behavioural therapy.Combined with providing tools to help children self-manage these will give children back some control and reduce the impact of the hyperacusis on their day-to-day life.

Where can I get further information and support?

The British Tinnitus Association (BTA) has some great information on-line and available to download.  There is also a case study ‘When the world is too loud: understanding hyperacusis’ about techniques to help people manage their hyperacusis, and a book review of  Hyperacusis: Mechanisms, Diagnosis and Therapies by David M Baguley and Gerhard Anderson (published by Plural Publishing).

Information on auditory desensitisation and managing hyperacusis in children is available from Deafness Research UK.

The Tinnitus and Hyperacusis Centre (London) provides in-depth information about the biological and auditory processes of hyperacusis.

The Hyperacusis Network is a support network for sufferers of hyperacusis.

UCL run an annual Advanced Audiology Masterclass in Tinnitus and Hyperacusis. The 3 day Masterclass starts with a research update on the current understanding of the mechanisms of tinnitus and hyperacusis. It then addresses the different approaches for the assessment and management of these symptoms in adults, before focusing on paediatric patient management. In 2010 the lectures were recorded and can be watched free here including a presentation of a case study ‘Managing anxiety in a child with hyperacusis’.

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