Hyperacusis is a hypersensitivity of hearing; this does not mean having the hearing of superman; but sensitivity to the sound around them. This might be the cry of a baby, the sound of a small child shouting even the sound of traffic, turning the page of a newspaper or a washing machine may be too much for them. If you think about how some sounds set you on edge when you are stressed, hyperacusis is worse but this will give you a small window into the world of perpetual hypersensitivity to noise. Sounds interfere with their ability to concentrate, a few might experience distress and pain to some noises.
There are many theories about why some people experience hyperacusis, but to date it is not really properly understood, however it is clearly due to problems within the auditory system rather than just possible damage to the inner ear. People with hyperacusis often do not have hearing loss.
The auditory system could be likened to a system of filters, that organises sounds from the most important, to those that are just ‘background noises’.
A good example is when you are out shopping and a friend calls your name. This is the sound that will be most recognised by these filters as someone’s voice that you recognise calls out your name; this immediately prioritises that sound.
On the other end of this spectrum is when someone is so focused upon a task that all sound is filtered into the background in order to strengthen your ability to concentrate
Therapy is widely available privately; sometimes this may be available on the NHS for people with very severe or persistent hyperacusis. It should only be carried out by someone specially trained in the technique. Treatment can differ, with differing forms of therapy being utilised It can take years to be retrained successfully.
You know what it is like to go out into the sun after being in a darkened room; you cannot see because the sun immediately blinds you. It is the same experience for someone with hyperacusis except they experience this with sound.
Those with hyperacusis should avoid wearing earplugs or muffs – these won't allow the ears to become accustomed to the noise, and may actually make a person more sensitive to noise.