Coping with noise sensitivity
5 Ways to Cope with Sensitivity to Sound – Cleveland Clinic
Do you hate the sound of chewing so much it gives you dry heaves? Or does the sound of a knuckle cracking make you want to scream? If your reactions to noise strike others as extreme, you may have sensitivity to sound.
“Some hearing disorders cause strong reactions to sounds that others consider ordinary,” says psychologist Scott Bea, PsyD. “People may want to simply avoid these sounds, but it’s in their best interest to grow their ability to tolerate them.”
In this Q&A, Dr. Bea shares five ways to cope with (and maybe even overcome) noise sensitivity.
Q. What hearing disorders make you more sensitive to sounds?
A. There are several conditions related to noise sensitivity:
- Tinnitus: Tinnitus is chronic ringing in the ears.
- Hyperacusis: About 10% of people with tinnitus also have hyperacusis. You may be hypersensitive to loud sounds, such as lawn mowers, ambulance sirens or loud music. You may experience certain sounds as painfully loud or perceive them as dangerous. Many people overprotect their ears and try to avoid these sounds.
- Misophonia: A neurophysiologist coined misophonia back in 2001. He saw people having strong, emotional and, in some cases, physiologic responses to ordinary human sounds. These sounds include chewing, breathing, lip-smacking and tapping sounds that come from others and not themselves. They would have strong feelings of anger, anxiety or disgust.
Q. Is misophonia a mental illness?
A. There’s growing interest in misophonia. In fact, researchers from Amsterdam got the 2020 Ig Nobel Prize for research they did to characterize misophonia as a new diagnosis. (The Ig Nobel Prize parodies the Nobel Peace Prize, and according to its creators, “honor[s] achievements that make people laugh, then think.”)
Currently, misophonia is not a recognized diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM–5). The DSM-5 is the book that classifies all recognized mental and behavioral conditions in the U.S. It also does not appear in the International Classification of Diseases, 10th Revision (ICD-10), the World Health Organization’s version of the DSM-5.
Audiologists, neurologists and people in behavioral health have observed this condition, and I’ve treated people with it as well. I think this group is relatively small, but we still have to figure out how many people have it. There haven’t been any great research studies, although some are emerging. But awareness does seem to be increasing.
Researchers are starting to study an area of the brain called the anterior insular cortex. In functional MRI studies, it seems to be active in people considered to have misophonia. Other parts of the brain responsible for sound processing may also integrate with the anterior insular cortex. So there may be some brain science that underlies this, but we’re still in the early goings of understanding it.
Q. How do you cope with noise sensitivity?
A. Noise sensitivities are like anxiety because you can’t fix them. But what you can do is behave with courage, which is a much better long-term solution for the brain. It’s what we encourage our kids to do. We can’t fix everything for them, but we can teach them to behave courageously to better cope with problems.
To do this, I recommend:
1. Don’t overprotect against sound
The more you protect your hearing, the more fear you invoke about these sounds. That fear leads to more avoidance and an increased likelihood that these sounds will irritate you. You then remain overly sensitive.
Think about it this way: If you sat in a dark room for three hours and then walked out into ordinary sunlight, the sun would feel painful. You’ve simply been away from it for too long. When people protect their hearing, as they tend to do with hyperacusis and misophonia, they can create a condition that is more difficult to manage. It’s understandable. They’re having strong emotional or physiologic reactions. But avoidance is not always the wisest approach.
I have worked in a tinnitus management clinic for more than 10 years. We try to retrain the brain by helping people feel less distressed by the chronic ringing in their ears. One of the things we encourage patients to do is regard the sound as unimportant. They worry that it’s dangerous or that something terrible will happen to their hearing. They’re constantly listening to and for the sound, and it’s driving them crazy. They can’t control it.
We try to teach them ways not to resist it anymore and allow it to be there. If you hear a dog barking, and it’s disturbing to you, try to label it as unimportant. This will help your mind drift to other things. These strategies can really help.
2. Systematically expose yourself to the sounds you hate
Rather than avoiding the sound, take steps to expose yourself systematically to it. This strategy works well with relaxation or mindfulness skills that you practice while doing it.
To practice mindfulness, sit comfortably. Be aware of your breathing and anything that takes you away from that awareness. It could be a sound, sensation or, more likely, a thought. If you notice your attention leaving your breath, let that awareness pass by and ease your attention back to it.
People often think we use relaxation strategies, mindfulness or meditative practice to simply relax, fix or change something. But the point is to develop an attitude of allowing things to be as they are — being an observer, not a fixer. That has a nice effect on our brains and bodies. Fixing is exhausting: It’s bound to be repeated and doesn’t work well. Letting things be the way they are, even if they don’t feel wonderful, can be more effective and long lasting.
Get started with these tips:
- Go online: There are plenty of YouTube videos you can watch featuring people breathing, snoring, chewing, smacking their lips and yawning — the very things that trigger the emotional and physical responses of people with these concerns.
- Stick with it: Keep listening to the sound until at least half of your distress dissipates. First, notice that the sound isn’t dangerous. Then try to label it as unimportant. Start to experience the feelings you’re having as safe. While they may be uncomfortable and distressing, they’re not dangerous.
- Get help: A psychotherapist can help you notice and study the real sensations and experiences of your brain and body. They can help you identify if it is an anxiety reaction or feelings of anger or disgust.
3. Talk to a medical professional
People with misophonia often have other conditions that come along with it, or comorbidities. It’s not unusual for these individuals to have anxiety disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) or other forms of anxiety and depression. A behavioral health expert can help you with strategies for misophonia. Some strategies are also used for other sound problems like tinnitus and hyperacusis. But keep in mind that not all behavioral health experts are aware of misophonia.
You could also talk to your primary care physician. If they don’t know much about it, they may be able to direct you to people in audiology, psychology or neurology who can help.
A few forms of therapy that may be helpful for people with misophonia are:
- Tinnitus retraining therapy (TRT): TRT involves introducing competing sounds — sometimes more pleasant ones or sounds just slightly under the volume of the disturbing sound — to help the brain let go of its sense of disturbance. But look for a professional audiologist trained in TRT. There’s great research on its effect for people that have chronic ringing in the ears.
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): A recent study is one of the first to suggest that forms of cognitive therapy may be very useful to treat misophonia. Often, the therapist uses exposure techniques like the ones I described, along with mindfulness or relaxation strategies, to help people reevaluate these noises. This is an area that’s going to emerge as we learn more.
4. Minimize your stress
Whenever you’re anxious, aroused or stressed, you’re going to be more sensitive. Any steps you can take to decrease your overall level of stress will help. That includes getting treatment for any comorbidities rather than continuing to suffer.
You can’t get rid of stressors, of course, but you can learn to respond to them and your thoughts differently. It’s also quite possible to stay in these circumstances and learn to regard them with less negativity.
5. Get support
There are some online groups where you can connect to others who are irritated by sounds. But make sure they are productive and factual.
I encourage people to stubbornly refuse to feel sorry for themselves and seek courageous methods to exist well in the world. Rather than getting rid of everything unpleasant, behave with courage, confront some of these matters and find ways to use exposure-based strategies. You’ll be better off long-term.
Sensitivity to Sound - 5 Coping Strategies
By:Magali De Reu
The past two years have had a huge impact on our lives. For those who are triggered by noise, whether hypersensitive, neurodivergent or suffering from an auditory disorder, it has been a calmer time. Now that we’re once again free to go outside and be exposed to auditory stimuli, our brains are more likely to be overloaded. For many people this means a lot of anxiety and overwhelm, putting a damper on their daily lives. So how do we deal with noise sensitivity post-lockdown? Here are five useful tips on how to deal with noise sensitivity:
#1 Start by giving it a name: is it hyperacusis, misophonia or something else?
Overwhelmed by noises to the point where it stops you from doing things or going out? Do certain sounds trigger anxiety or panic? Or perhaps you find they make it difficult to focus on conversations? You’re not alone, and we feel you.
There are many conditions that cause sensitive hearing. It helps to give the problem a name.
Maybe you suffer frommisophonia and have a strong reaction to specific sounds, like chewing or yawning. This can cause a strong emotional response like irritation, rage or panic.
Or perhaps you find many noises painfully loud, thehallmark of hyperacusis. Then you might feel completely overwhelmed by the sound of lawnmowers or ambulances.
Hyperacusis often goes hand in hand with other conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). If you are a highly sensitive person (HSP), haveADHD, sensory processing disorder or autismor are suffering from a concussion you could also have a heightened sensitivity to sound. Behavioral experts can give you strategies to cope with this sensitivity, some of which overlap with strategies for other sound perception disorders like tinnitus.
Can’t define your relationship with noise sensitivity? Let’s call it “complicated” then! It could be an idea to make a list of auditory issues that disturb your daily life. Simply something to hold on to so you get to know yourself a little better.
#2 Call in the support troops for your noise sensitivity issues
Once you’ve gotten all the information you need about your condition and how to cope with it, it’s time to surround yourself with good support.
Having professionals such as psychologists at hand is one thing, but being able to rely on friends and family is just as important. They can support you emotionally and help you practice ways to cope. Again, you’re not alone in this.
Earplugs for noise sensitivity
There’s lots of great information resources online, as well as supportive communities on Reddit, Quora and mental health forums. You can reach out to online groups of people suffering from similarnoise sensitivity issues.
Be careful though: it’s important to make sure these groups are constructive and objective. The idea isn’t to find comfort in isolation together, but rather to support each other in finding ways to take on the world.
Whether online or in person, it helps to tell people what is bothering you about going out and facing noises.
Do you have a social activity on the calendar? Great, let’s help you put up that game face! Practice having conversations with a friend or partner with noise playing in the background, gradually building up the noise level.
Or maybe a trusted friend or family member wants to accompany you when you go out. Discuss beforehand how they can help you. For example by reassuring you or agreeing to a signal that your limit has been reached. What a great reason to come up with a new stop word, huh?
#3 Practice builds resistance to fear of loud noises
If you’re sensitive to loud noises, it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. To the contrary: building up noise exposure slowly is more effective in the long run.
People who fill their agenda with tons of activities don’t always realize that their brain is going into fight or flight mode. Psychologists agree that it’s important to gradually build up “normal” activities.
Step by step. Rest and breaks are extremely important to help you process and recharge.
Find your earplugs
You can start with small steps at home: putting the television or music on softly in the background.
You can search for sounds online that simulate real-life sounds: even those annoying restaurant noises!
Try playing these sounds while doing something you enjoy, like reading or knitting. Slowly extend the length of time and raise the volume to desensitize you to these sounds.
You can keep a journal to note down your reactions and keep track of your progress.
#4 Build up a stress tool kit against your sensitivity to sound
Anxiety, irritation and stress are going to kick yournoise sensitivityinto high gear. So anything you can do to address your overall stress level is going to help with yoursensitivity to soundas well. Since we can’t get rid of everything that stresses us out, we have to start with ourselves.
Breathing exercises can help lower our stress levels and make us feel more zen. They help you learn to breathe in and out slowly and calmly, slowing down your heart rate and quieting restless thoughts. You can find a ton of these exercises online. Practice doing them at home: first in silence, then slowly building up the sound level to ramp up your ability to cope with noise triggers in the moment.
There are lots of other strategies to help counteract noise overwhelm. One is to focus your attention on something else, like playing with a ring or bracelet. Another is pleasant tastes or smells: sucking on a peppermint, or smelling a handkerchief with a pleasant smell.
Mindfulness and other relaxation techniques can be very effective in reducing anxiety, and there are plenty of tips and exercises online and via apps.
Others rely on cognitive behavior therapy techniques (CBT), which recognizes emotions while providing tools to manage negative thoughts. Try a few things and see what works for you!
#5 Don’t overprotect your ears
One thing is clear: the more you protect your hearing, the more sounds can keep causing anxiety.
Fear of loud or triggering sounds causes people to isolate and can actually increase the likelihood of being triggered by them. This can keep them in a state of being overly sensitive and unable to cope.
The good news is that you can help reduce noise without shutting out the world.
Ear defenders and traditional earplugs can be helpful in some situations, when mowing the lawn for example. But relying on them all the time will make your ears even moresensitive to loud sounds & noises.The best thing is to reduce the noise without isolating yourself. By lowering the volume of sounds without eliminating them completely, you can avoid triggering your fight or flight response.
Loop earplugs don’t block noise, instead filtering a bit to decrease the intensity without putting you in a sound-proof bubble.
Loop Experience combines an acoustic channel, filter and membrane to reduce noise by up to 18 decibels while sounds and speech remain clear.
Many users have reported that Loop Experience helps them manage theirnoise sensitivity, making a positive impact on their daily lives.
All earplugs for noise sensitivity
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The most common question my son asks is “What is that noise, mommy?”
I can't hear what's bothering him so much. He can hear the school bus half a mile from home. Despite the closed windows, he hears the neighbor lift the door of his garage. He hears whispers in the next room, a fan in a noisy store, the noise of an airplane's turbines long before it's in the sky. At a noisy fair, he hears someone playing his favorite song at the other end of the park.
The other side of this heightened hearing is that the noise quickly becomes painful and can even trigger a panic attack. When a person hears everything at the same time, it is impossible to keep attention on the current task. Trying to ignore some sounds and focus on others requires extra effort, and constant exposure to noise causes a growing sense of anxiety.
When my son was a toddler, he had a panic attack every time our washing machine clicked to switch mode. He has developed a phobia of all kinds of calls. He covered his hands and shouted into the crowd. But if we went for a walk in the woods, went to the library or went to church, he became calm and even peaceful: his tense muscles literally relaxed under my hands.
Develop a plan to deal with the noise
All these observations gave me food for thought, and as a result I was able to develop a plan. Over time, his tolerance for various sounds has steadily grown, and today his only phobia is dog barking.
Here are 11 techniques to help a person suffering from hypersensitivity to sounds cope with the problem and learn to enjoy everyday noises.
- Understand sensitivity type
There are several types of sound sensitivity, each with its own type of interference. Consult an audiologist to understand how your hearing works and how it affects your quality of life. For example, my son, along with a phobia of some specific sounds, had hyperacusis.
- Hyperacusis - sensitivity to everyday sounds, often associated with tinnitus, i.e. ringing in the ears
- Hypersensitivity to sounds of a certain frequency is often (but not always) associated with autism. A person calmly perceives most sounds, but at some frequency they cause concern, especially if the frequency is above 70 decibels. For example, a person can be calmly next to a running dishwasher, but the more intense noise of a vacuum cleaner will be painful for his ears.
- "Loudness jump" is directly related to sensorineural hearing loss. This term refers to a sudden "increase in volume" during prolonged exposure to a sound stimulus. Hair cells in the inner ear normally "translate" sound waves into nerve signals. If some of the cells are damaged or not working, they do not perceive sound, but at a certain frequency, the healthy cells surrounding the damaged participant can “turn on” and thus the person will have a sensation as if they suddenly “turned up the volume”, which can be unexpected and painful.
- Phonophobia (also called sonophobia or lygyrophobia) persistent unusual fear of sounds, whether it be a specific noise such as a fire siren or the everyday sounds of the environment. People with phonophobia fear being confronted with sounds that frighten them, especially loud ones, and may even become reclusive and refuse to leave the house due to a growing sense of anxiety.
- Misophonia - an emotional reaction, most often irritation or rage, in response to certain sounds. The trigger is most often the sound of someone chewing or breathing, and most often it is about a person with whom the misophonia sufferer is closely related. For example, Nate, the son of my friend Lisa, ran out of the dining room in anger as soon as he heard his father chewing, but the same sounds made by his mother or sister had no effect on him.
2. Get Protected
Earmuffs or ear plugs are the first things you need to get relief. Noise-canceling headphones will be most effective, as they replace annoying external sound effects with soothing white noise. Earplugs are made from a variety of materials, try a few to see what works best for you.
However, most audiologists, pediatricians, rehabilitation therapists, and teachers oppose the frequent use of earphones and earplugs, as the person may become addicted. In the long term, noise blocking reduces the development of adaptive skills and alienates a person from society.
3. Find a safe place
One of the first steps I took with my son was to make a list of “safe” places where he could spend more time. Depending on the characteristics of a person, he can "escape" from the noise:
- helping in the local library
- by attending reading hours in libraries or bookstores.
- during regular walks in the forest or park
- near railroad tracks or helipad
- attending services or other events in the Synagogue
4. Get some noise under control
At its core, anxiety is the fear of losing control over reactions and situations. When my son suffered from a call phobia, I gave him several different types and asked him to experiment with them at home. If we saw calls on the counter in the store or in public places, I let them call. Gradually, he got used to certain sounds, and even began to recognize loudspeakers, sirens and other sources of sound in places where we were.
5. Allow distractions
When my husband and I were preparing for childbirth, we learned in class how distractions affect pain. Giving a person a tablet, allowing them to take their favorite toy with them, or providing any other distracting stimulus will draw attention away from annoying sounds.
6. Gradually increase the duration and intensity
To teach a person not to be afraid of water, it is not necessary to push him off the side of the boat into the river. Likewise, dealing with heightened sensitivity to sounds involves gradual desensitization, not the other way around. Start by observing from afar and move closer to the source step by step.
My son had a problem with sirens, so we started by looking at pictures of fire trucks and ambulances in books. I imitated the sound of a siren with my voice. We read books about firefighters and policemen, my son dressed as a policeman, we watched videos of fire trucks on yputube. Together with the play group that my son went to, we went on an excursion to the unit and the son was able to sit in the cab of the fire truck. He smiled broadly. I drew his attention to ambulances and firemen when we were driving somewhere. Gradually, they became part of our daily life and the sounds of sirens stopped bothering him.
7. Alternate between silence and noise
I have noticed that my son's ability to deal with loud noises increases if we take frequent "sit in silence" breaks. After a hectic morning in the city, we enjoy a quiet lunch at home, after a playgroup with seven other kids, we cuddle on the couch. When we decided that we could handle a visit to the amusement park, we booked a hotel right on its territory so that we could “retreat” as often as needed. We always take a break BEFORE the noise pisses him off, so our boy is always ready to return to the interrupted activity after the rest.
8. Hyperacusis Retraining Therapy (Tinnitus Retraining Therapy)
Auditory Integration Therapy (AIT) It is recommended for people with noise sensitivity, but not too many studies have been published to support this technique, and not all of the available ones can be considered credible.
However, there is a lot of medical research Tinnitus retraining therapy during which the patient listens to a wide range of pink noise to adjust to tinnitus. Pink noise consists of all audible frequencies, where the lower frequencies sound more intense than the higher ones. Most people say that such noise sounds "flat". Thanks to this property, pink noise allows you to form a tolerance to sounds.
9. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is widely recommended by doctors for phobias and anxiety disorders, as the person learns to control their emotions and coping skills in the process. The goal of such therapy is to influence the way a person thinks in moments of anxiety, and thus improve the quality of life.
10. Don't Forget Nutrients
Many people who suffer from tinnitus or hyperacusis are deficient in magnesium and other nutrients. Talk to your doctor to determine which vitamins and minerals may be helpful for you.
11. Pay attention to nutrition
Some dietary supplements, especially those containing salicylates, have been linked to increased sensitivity to sounds. In fact, salicylate is called “ringing in the ears” in the medical literature. Special diets, such as the Feingold Diet or diverse food diet helps to remove foods with these additives from the diet, which affects the level of sensitivity. However, before deciding to change your child's diet, check with your doctor.
The world is a noisy place, but a person can easily live without going to fireworks shows, football games and rock concerts. If the sensitivity to sounds limits his daily activities - it's time to take a closer look at the problem and ask for help. Systematic work on increasing tolerance to sounds will allow a person to get more pleasure from communication and take a greater part in the life of the community. In conclusion, I want to quote a site created to help people with hyperacusis: “Without the sound of the surf, there is no ocean”
I can't stand the noise | PSYCHOLOGIES
At the same time that I'm working on this material, the issue is being handed over - behind my back the designers are discussing the subtleties of politics, and at the next table a colleague is talking to the editor-in-chief. Concentrating in such conditions is simply unthinkable! But this happens every month. I endured a year, and then I realized that this would not change, and recently I bought headphones with large “ears” so as not to disturb others. Now I am writing while listening to Bach. To be honest, I would prefer complete silence, but since this is impossible, then between the excited voices and the Musical Offering, I choose the latter.
Olga, 45 years old
The conversation of fellow travelers in the subway, the barking of a dog outside the window, a party at a neighboring dacha - all this instantly infuriates 36-year-old Lyubov. “I am extremely irritated,” she admits. “This noise absorbs my thoughts, everything else seems to cease to exist for me, and only this sound torture remains.”
I have heightened hearing
Different people perceive sounds differently. Some of us will walk past a working jackhammer without wincing, while others will twitch at the slamming of the closed door.
“Some people have heightened hearing,” explains otolaryngologist Elena Fedotova. This phenomenon is called hyperacusis, or increased hearing acuity. Their inner ear is more developed than others. But sounds can cause severe discomfort, annoy and even hurt those who, on the contrary, have hearing loss.”
I feel defenseless
“A sound that we didn't order can involuntarily be perceived as an intrusion into our inner territory, as a threat to our peace of mind or our way of life,” explains family psychologist Inna Shifanova. “It triggers our physiological flight-or-fight response.
Pulse and respiration become more frequent, muscles tense involuntarily, sweating increases. Our attention is focused on the source of danger - this is also part of our instinctive program, which is why it is so difficult for us to distract ourselves from this sound. If at the same time we can neither escape nor fight, then we experience this situation as a state of complete helplessness. It intensifies if the sounds cause unpleasant associations.
“We are especially annoyed by those that we associate with a value system alien to us,” says psychotherapist and neuroscientist Beatrice Milletre. So, an elderly person, most likely, will hardly endure the rap that his grandson listens to. The grandson can be annoyed by the recording of Ruslanova's songs.
According to the psychotherapist, this trend is generally characteristic of our era: “We live in a society that is developing in an individualistic direction much more strongly than ever before. Everyone believes that the world should adapt to him.
I let off steam
“When we are happy, it's hard to piss us off and we don't even notice many obstacles,” reminds Inna Shifanova. “However, if we are tired, upset, or have difficulty achieving inner balance, an extraneous sound can unsettle us. And the irritation that we feel about this absorbs the energy of our dissatisfaction with everything else.
The paradox is that this same situation gives us a chance to regain confidence in our own strength - by expressing our anger or doing something to protect ourselves from unwanted noises.
What to do?
Visit an otolaryngologist
“Increased sensitivity to noise can be a symptom of incipient deafness,” cautions Elena Fedotova. She advises getting an examination, and also emphasizes the importance of respecting hearing: "Too loud music, working in conditions of constant high level noise can damage the inner ear, but it does not recover." As you know, prevention is better than cure.
“Try to create the right sound environment for yourself, change it according to mood and moment,” suggests Beatrice Milletre. “Pick up some nice music, put on a CD with nature sounds, use double-glazed windows and even earplugs.”
Consider the context
“We respond to the situation as a whole, not just to a specific stimulus,” emphasizes Inna Shifanova.