Firstly, what is hyperacusis? Hyperacusis is a condition where a person perceives everyday common sound(s) as being too loud and even painful. As many as 60% of people who experience tinnitus also experience hyperacusis! A person with hyperacusis may begin to notice that they avoid certain sound environments for fear of exposure to intolerable noise levels. This can be very limiting if the sound of a car horn, clanging dishes, children’s laughter, or a ambulance siren (and the list goes on) elicits pain and bother. All too often, it is the fear itself of being exposed to offending sounds that is enough to isolate a person from activities they used to enjoy. In reality, these everyday sounds do not cause damage to a person’s hearing, though they sure feel like they might. Rather it is a person’s erroneous belief that these noises may cause harm that is the real culprit and keeps us locked in a habit of reacting to everyday sounds with trepidation and fear.
For people with sound sensitivity (as is the case with tinnitus and hyperacusis) it is not the sound itself that is the problem but rather our knee-jerk reaction of fear and avoidance that maintains the unpleasant condition. Below is a link to an article that I wrote that explains what is happening in the brain of the person with tinnitus (and hyperacusis). It addresses the web of stories, predictions, and regrets that our mind habitually creates around even a neutral sound either from inside our heads (as is the case with tinnitus) or from the surrounding environment (the case with hyperacusis). The brain of the person with hyperacusis inadvertently creates the perception of increased volume and even pain.
The Mindfulness Based Tinnitus Stress Reduction (MBTSR) course is designed to aid the person with tinnitus as well as hyperacusis to address the habitual erroneous and magnified fear reaction when certain sounds are perceived. Through practicing skill building mindfulness exercises, the brain’s habit of false perception is interrupted replacing a fear reaction with calm and balance. Throughout the remainder of the course, you are encouraged to apply the mindfulness practice to both tinnitus and to hyperacusis reactions, if they both exist for you. Through re-perceiving sound by bringing awareness to stories we create, relieving stress and calming false fears, the brain is opened up to new ways of wiring and firing towards a less bothersome and more adaptive approach to sound sensation.