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Hyperacusis and phobia of noise

What is hyperacusis?

Children with hyperacusis have difficulty tolerating sounds which do not bother others. For example, noise from the washing machine, vacuum cleaner, traffic noise or shuffling papers.

For some children they may only experience hyperacusis for some sounds. Not all noises of the same volume will cause distress.

What are the signs and symptoms?

Children with hyperacusis often have normal or near normal hearing. They may cry, cover their ears, scream loudly or behave erratically when they hear a sound that they find hard to tolerate.

How common is it and what are the possible causes?

The cause of hyperacusis is unknown and more research is needed. In most children, there is no specific cause and it is just a learned behaviour.

It can sometimes be triggered by exposure to a loud or unpleasant noise that takes them by surprise. For example, a firework or a balloon popping or shouting. This can lead to a fear or phobia of loud noise and can make a child wait for it to happen. They might want to avoid certain situations such as parties.

Other possible causes include:

  • head injury
  • noise induced trauma
  • ear damage from toxins
  • ear damage from medication
  • ear damage from viral infections

Hyperacusis is more common in children with certain conditions or syndromes. For example:

  • William’s syndrome
  • autism
  • attention deficit (hyperactivity) disorder (ADD or ADHD)
  • auditory processing disorder
  • learning difficulties

What can I do to help my child?

Information:

It is important not to focus on hyperacusis with your child.

Earplugs are not generally advised. Blocking your child’s hearing with earplugs could mean they do not hear warning sounds. Their ears might also try to compensate by boosting the quieter sounds making their ears even more over sensitive.

Show where the sound is coming from and explaining what it is may help them tolerate it.

Giving them control of when the sound might happen may help reduce your child’s fear and anxiety. For example, this may involve letting your child turn the vacuum cleaner on and off or encouraging sound and noises while playing. This should help your child learn that sound is not something that they need to be afraid of and that sound can be fun.

Hyperacusis tends to be less of a problem after the age of 5 to 6 years. It is uncommon that many adults are affected. For most children the problem improves and disappears over time.

If your child is particularly anxious about sounds, we may suggest that our psychologist sees them to offer help with coping strategies and anxiety.

A useful book for younger children is ‘When Fuzzy was afraid of big and loud things’ by Inger Maier and Jennifer Candon.

Misophonia

A similar but different condition is misophonia. Children with misophonia have strong reactions to repeating or patterned sounds.

People with misophonia are set off or triggered by very specific patterned sounds. For example, chewing, coughing, pencil tapping, sneezing and so on.

Treatment of misophonia

At the moment, there is no cure for misophonia but your clinician can talk to your child about coping strategies if your child has it. Even just to talk about the condition might be helpful.

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Disclaimer

Please note this is a generic information sheet relating to care at Sheffield Children’s. The details in this resource may not necessarily reflect treatment at other hospitals. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professionals’ instructions. If this resource relates to medicines, please read it alongside the medicine manufacturer’s patient information leaflet. If you have specific questions about how this resource relates to your child, please ask your doctor.

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Western Bank
Sheffield
S10 2TH

United Kingdom

Switchboard: 0114 271 7000

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