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Photo credit: Allan Ajifo licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

I developed tinnitus (ringing in the ears) and hyperacusis (a sensitivity to noise, characterized by discomfort and pain to noise levels that others don’t have a problem with) ten years ago after a one-time exposure to loud noise.

It was at a New Year’s Eve dinner in a restaurant. As midnight approached, they kept cranking the music up louder and louder. My wife could tell I was uncomfortable and suggested that we leave, but I didn’t want to offend her or the friends who had arranged the dinner.

We left as soon after midnight as we could, but my ears were ringing when we left and the ringing never stopped. And I found that sounds that didn’t bother others bothered me.

For years hyperacusis was thought to be purely psychosomatic and those with it to have some sort of psychiatric disorder. Then pain fibers were discovered in the auditory system. And now this report from Finland shows that there are differences in the brains of people with noise sensitivity.

So yes, hyperacusis is all in our heads. But it’s not as a psychiatric problem, it’s a central nervous system difference.

Science marches on!