lunes, 7 de diciembre de 2009

Hyperacusis- People with disorder just can't tune out noise

Posted: Nov. 2, 2009

When Marie walked into my office, she looked like someone out of "Night of the Living Dead."And, according to her, she fit the part.

"I don't sleep much, and I'm stressed most of the time," she stammered.

"What's driving you bonkers?" I asked.

"Noise," she replied. "My husband says I'm overreacting, but I can't help it."

A 30-something mother and working professional, Marie feels as if she's drowning in unwelcome sounds - not just blaring TVs, beeping cell phones and thumping car speakers, but even running water, air vents and normal conversation. In fact, just about any unwelcome or repetitive noise shatters her tenuous hold on inner peace.

"Other people aren't like this," she said. "What's wrong with me?"

Well, our world is an increasingly noisy place where oases of quiet are hard to find. Still, most of us learn to screen out so-called background noises, relegating them to low-grade distractions. But Marie isn't like most people.

"I suspect you have hyperacusis," I told her.

People with this sensory condition live in a world where the volume is always set on high and, to them, painfully so. You may have heard someone say "sound can kill," and those with hyperacusis feel as if that's what it's doing to them.

Medical science tells us that folks like Marie probably suffer from a loss of dynamic range in their hearing, meaning their ears cannot rapidly adjust to sudden shifts in the volume of sounds. They simply can't dial down their auditory sensitivity based on the loudness of their environment.

Suspected causes for hyperacusis are all over the map, including head trauma, adverse drug reactions, chronic ear infections and nerve damage. In individuals, the condition varies from mild to intense sensitivity to normal sounds.

Over time, the effect can be dramatic. In addition to stress, depression and sleep issues, sufferers can develop "phonophobia": basically, a fear of noise. And that fear drives some of them into social isolation.

Not only is Marie under chronic auditory siege, but her family and colleagues often dismiss her distress as an over-the-top reaction. Consequently, many hyperacusis sufferers also feel misunderstood, alienated and worried about having a mental disorder.

After a physician confirmed the diagnosis, Marie felt validated and, in one sense, normal again. She still had to deal with her hyperacusis, but not with the derision of others or her own concerns about being "a loon," as she put it.

By using a variety of sound-dampening devices and enlisting the cooperation of family and co-workers to "keep it down," Marie has exerted far greater control over her auditory world. In addition, she underwent a course of retraining therapy designed to partially reduce her sensitivity to noise.

So if noises that others find routine leave you half-crazed, hyperacusis may be the culprit. Like Marie, you may be someone in need of the sound of silence.

Author. Philip Chard is a psychotherapist, author and trainer. Names used in this column are changed to honor client confidentiality.
E-mail him at or visit
Fuente: JSOnline. Milwaoukee Sentinel. USA.

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