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Hearing problems: sensitivity and pain in ears

About sensitivity and pain in the ears

pain in ears

How to understand what the pain of sound sensitivity is like

There is a medical term for sensitivity and pain caused by sound and associated with deafness. It is hearing recruitment or just recruitment. The medical term hyperacusis describes a similar condition when sounds of everyday life are intrusively loud, uncomfortable and/or painful, but it is not associated with deafness.

A sure sign of sensitivity to sound is how the person concerned uses a television controller (television remote). Their fingers seldom stray far from the volume control which gets adjusted constantly as the volume or pitch changes. (I have worn out several controllers over the years, way before the television itself needed replacing - see my hearing.) Also people with sensitivity to sound wince with pain at certain sounds, and onlookers may not recognise this for what it is, thinking that it is an attempt to be amusing.

The problem of severe sensitivity to sound does not seem to have received much effective attention from medical researchers. One suggestion given to me from a top hearing-support establishment was to progressively acclimatise myself to increasingly louder sounds, but I didn't attempt to do so because every time I feel severe pain from sound, I seem to lose just a little more of my ability to hear. This seems logical, since exposure to loud sound is a recognised cause of deafness.

For anyone who experiences severe sensitivity to sound, coping with it has to be a way of life. My ear protection is always with me, ready to be used at a moment's notice. Obviously a balance has to be struck between using it and being able to listen to what people are saying. This is not easy: it can be very upsetting to feel forced to wear hearing protection while a conversation is going on that one wants to be part of. Occasionally, too, one is caught unawares by a sudden loud sound, with very unpleasant results - see my own hearing problems. What is most important is the understanding and support of the people around.

Support for hyperacusis does exist. Although the advice is really useful, by no means all of it applies to people who also have hearing loss. The distinction that it makes between hyperacusis and recruitment fits my own experience perfectly - that the pain lies in the range of the hearing loss.

How to help someone with sensitive hearing

Click here for How to help someone with sensitive hearing.

Click here for my review of earplugs and other hearing protection.


Click here for a list of ways that deaf people can help themselves   Click here for a list of ways to help deaf people

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Disclaimer: The information on this site is for a lay audience and I cannot be responsible for errors or omissions. The views, strategies, advice and suggestions etc are based on my personal experience and are not necessarily appropriate for anyone else. They should, hopefully, stimulate individuals to develop their own strategies.