Noise Sensitivity & Irritability

Written by susan deily-swearingen
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Noise Sensitivity & Irritability
(ear image by Dubravko Grakalic from

All people have at least one sound that causes them discomfort, negative associations or irritability. The reasons for these effects may vary from association with past traumas to the volume or tenor of the sound, to serious medical conditions making a person extra sensitive to sound. When a person is easily irritated by sounds that only they seem to be aware of, or sounds that are a part of the everyday routine of living in the world, that person may be said to be noise sensitive.


One of four types of noise sensitivity is hyperacusis. According to, “In the most common form of hyperacusis, cochlear hyperacusis, the symptoms are ear pain, annoyance, and general intolerance to any sounds that most people don't notice or consider unpleasant." In extreme cases, sufferers may need to isolate themselves from sounds altogether. Hyperacusis may lead to episodes of crying or panic when noise levels reach a certain decibel.

Hyperacusis in children may lead some physicians to misdiagnose them with autism. While this is a component symptom of autism, not every child who suffers from hyperacusis is autistic. Only by looking at additional symptoms can the varying diagnoses be teased out. Children suffering from hyperacusis may also experience nausea, instability and dizziness when exposed to certain sounds.


More common than hyperacusis is the sensitivity called recruitment. Recruitment occurs in people who also experience some amount of hearing loss. While he may not be able to hear certain sounds at certain levels, once the sound reaches a level where it can be perceived, a person suffering from recruitment can find himself suddenly overwhelmed. Of course, being overwhelmed can manifest itself in numerous ways including the responses listed for hyperacusis. According to, “Sometimes it [recruitment] can cause the range of useable hearing to be very narrow and can complicate hearing aid fitting."

Hyperacute Hearing

The Hyperacusis Network defines sufferers of hyperacute hearing as “individuals who are sound sensitive at birth but it is only specific to certain frequencies heard at loud levels (typically above 70 decibels)." Autistic children provide a useful example of this type of hearing disorder. While many sounds may be acceptable to them at varying levels of loudness, other sounds can set off outbursts and other indications of discomfort.


According to, “Misophonia is an extremely strong dislike of normal sounds. The degree of reaction is not based on the properties of the sound, such as loudness and pitch, but by past experiences with certain sounds and overall state of mind." This last category can often occur in concert with other hearing sensitivities such as hyperacusis.


All forms of hearing sensitivity can cause behavioural problems including irritability. In many cases the treatment is not total isolation from sound, but rather a gradual and systematic reintegration with certain sound types, frequencies and volumes. This therapy type is known as “pink noise."

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