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Hyperacusis is a disorder in loudness perception. Patients suffering from hyperacusis may appear overly sensitive to a range of sounds, finding many noises unbearable and painfully loud. Hyperacusis is not the same as "recruitment," a disorder that can be a normal consequence of hearing loss and is associated with abnormal perception of sound as the volume increases.

The condition can affect children and adults, but is considered rare, occurring in an estimated one in 50,000 people. It can be caused by a number of factors. The most common is related to damage to the cochlea from exposure to loud noises such as those experienced at certain work environments, rock concerts, gunfire, air bag deployment in cars and fireworks.

The condition often affects people who have sustained a head injury, as well as those with tinnitus, a common condition in which people hear a ringing noise in their ears. Other causes may include acoustic trauma, adverse reactions to medicine or surgeries, chronic ear infections, and autoimmune disorders.

Our Approach to Hyperacusis

At UCSF, our audiologists and ear specialists provide state-of-the-art evaluation and treatment for patients with hearing disorders, such as hyperacusis. We know that when a person develops a sensitivity to normal sounds, it can affect many aspects of daily life. That's why we treat the condition with a combination of behavioral counseling and acoustic therapy. Counseling helps patients manage the anxieties and fears that often come with hyperacusis, while acoustic therapy can decrease patients' sensitivity to sounds. We also fit some patients with a wearable device that produces steady, gentle sounds that can desensitize the auditory nerves and affected parts of the brain over time, allowing patients to tolerate normal environmental sounds again.

UCSF Health medical specialists have reviewed this information. It is for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace the advice of your doctor or other health care provider. We encourage you to discuss any questions or concerns you may have with your provider.