Does it drive you crazy when people chew? Do sniffling, nail cutting, or other repetitive sounds make you angry or disgusted? Noise sensitivity, or HYPERACUSIS (hai·pr·uh·kyoo·suhs) and MISOPHONIA (mi·suh·fo·nee·uh), can occur for many reasons but are common after trauma. It is actually a completely normal response.
Hyperacusis is a disorder in loudness perception. It results in sensitivity to everyday noises which may be unbearable or even painful. This can be caused by a range of things like noise pollution (often in workplaces), physical injury or infection. The brain seems to adjust to this by turning up the volume, referred to as ‘auditory gain’. This condition impacts quality of life and can contribute to struggles with mental health such as, depression.
Misophonia is not a hearing issue but rather a strong emotional response (e.g., anger or disgust) to repetitive or particular sounds like chewing or sniffling. When we are under continued stress, or have experienced trauma, these mechanisms in our autonomic nervous system (ANS) can become over sensitive. This can make it hard to regulate our emotions because strong emotions are to meant to protect us from danger (ex. anger – fight back; disgust – keep away; fear- run away).
a ‘hard-wired’ fight/flight system that is meant to protect us from danger.
Why might misophnia or hyperacusis occur after trauma?
Our brain uses cues from our five senses to help decide how it needs to respond. When stressed, the body adjusts to protect itself. Trauma reduces our tolerance for stress and can distort our perception of risk (we over-estimate threats). Misophonia and hyperacusis both involve an oversensitivity to sound or an exaggerated emotional reaction to sound. These responses in our brain/ANS are automatic. Increased sensitivity to sound or strong emotion are ways we protect ourselves from threats.
Treatments incorporate a variety of methods. You should explore what is best for you with your health care providers.
- Relaxation and mindfulness therapies to calm our mind and body (e.g. progressive muscle relaxation)
- Therapies that aim to redirect/reroute the brains pathways connected with this over response (e.g. neurofeedback)
- Therapies that help to regulate strong emotions and unhelpful thoughts (e.g. CBT/DBT) – Treatments for related conditions such as depression, anxiety, trauma or tinnitus. This might involve medications in some instances.
- Therapies to decrease the brain’s sensitivity to sound (e.g. playing background noise, Sound therapy)
- Treatments that dampen sound or protect hearing such as, headphones that limit sounds from reaching the ear and brain.