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Hyperacusis Causes Everyday Sounds To Be Unbearable

BOSTON (CBS) - A loud noise can be uncomfortable, but for some people, it can be downright painful. These people suffer from something known as 'Noise Trauma', or 'Hyperacusis'.

Researcher Richard Tyler, Ph.D., explained, "Basically if you think of it, 'hyper' means excessive and 'acusis' means sound. So it's an excessive response to sound."

For George Rue, certain everyday sounds are unbearable. "Squeaky door hinges. Any type of fork on a plate. It's like microscopic needles shooting in my ear drums."

A patient's response can range from simple sensitivity to physical pain. In extreme cases, patients can also suffer from depression and anxiety.

Dr. Sujana Chandrasekhar, a hearing specialist, said "They basically become hermits or shut-ins because they cannot tolerate even the simplest sound."

It's estimated about 8% of the population has some form of hyperacusis. It can present at any age.

Some possible causes include exposure to loud noise, and certain inflammatory or infectious diseases. Sometimes, there is no known cause.

Dr. Chandrasekhar added, "Most of us think it's a brain perception problem where the brain is hyper vigilant and hyper sensitive to sounds. So, research is being done to try to figure out the brain pathways that control hyperacusis."

Current treatments include: the use of filtered ear plugs to protect against loud sounds; wearing a specially programmed hearing aid; sound therapy to help retrain the brain; and cognitive behavioral therapy to reduce anxiety associated with loud noise.

It's a tough situation to live with, even with a more mild case like Linda Opperman's. "I think that a lot of people don't realize how important taking care of your ears are."

Some public health officials agree. A recent report by the World Health Organization estimates more than a billion people are putting their hearing at risk by using ear buds at a high volume. They suggest turning them down, and limiting use to once a day.

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