Question from a member of our community:
My question is around hyperacusis, hyperacusis from acoustic shock recovery, I don’t find much info in the world for this. For three years I’ve had hyperacusis and hypersensitivity to sounds and vibration. So much so my eardrum or ear canal taps when there is sound or vibration. Can you help me understand what is happening here, I’m curious? I do find noise and vibration tricky and I’ve tinnitus on top of that, which responds to how much noise I’ve experienced in one day. For three years, I feel I’ve done the wrong thing and avoided noise really, but I’m an introvert and I love the peace and quiet so I crave and seek it even more now. I also have vestibular migraine and PPPD on top of all of this.
Well, I want to say that I think there, is in the medical world and in the audiology world, probably some disagreements on hyperacusis, acoustic shock, and tonic tensor tympani syndrome. But my understanding and my, I suppose, approach to healing these, I can explain with you, which is that so the brain and the ears are locked in this fight, flight, freeze situation where the nervous system is treating sounds as a threatening event. And there will be a reason for that, probably a very good reason. Maybe there was an acoustic shock situation. And from that point on the body has said, “Okay, from now on sounds are not safe. I’m just going to be super vigilant.” Now, we have mechanisms in the ears that protect us from loud sounds. We have little reflex muscles and tendons that actually draw in and contract during loud sounds, a little protective, really, reflexes that make the eardrum and the middle ear system hold on tight, just so there’s not too many vibrations passing through the ears unnecessarily.
So it’s healthy, it’s normal, but what is not healthy or normal is if that is engaged all the time and it’s overprotective and over responsive. So the good news is is the way we reverse this, this kind of anxious overprotective response, is through regulating the nervous system and learning how to self sooth and relax and respond really lovingly to sound so that the body can reverse that danger response and that threat response. So I hope that has answered your question that there’s often a truly… Perhaps for example, someone might be near a speaker that explodes or they’ve got a headset on and there’s a very loud, sharp sound and that’s the acoustic shock initiative, that’s what starts it. And then the brain logs all sounds are now dangerous and it starts to become overprotective. So we get a very tight jaw, we might get headaches, we can get funny mechanical sounds, which you describe, we can become sensitive to sounds and vibrations even at normal and very safe hearing levels so some people will want whispers. They don’t want sound at all. Sound just feels really threatening.
what we want to do is to reverse all of that. So this is about navigating and changing our relationship to sound. We want the brain to, once again, open the flood gates and welcome sound in safely because sound is safe. And we want to just simply disengage that anxiety system of the over protective reflex system in the inner ears around the middle ear system and the eardrum. So that’s a very mechanical skeleto-muscular place where the body’s affected. So I hope that helps answer your question because I think you were just interested to hear my perspective on hyperacusis, acoustic shock, and tonic tensor tympani syndrome. So I think the key is it’s reversible and it’s a very personal process.
Oh, the last thing I wanted to say for you was I wouldn’t necessarily say you’ve done the wrong thing. Don’t be hard on yourself. You’ve tried to protect yourself and you’ve avoided noise because that’s what’s felt nourishing and nurturing for you or perhaps you haven’t had any other options. So I think it’s okay that you’ve made those choices. And if we look at this from a more of a spiritual point of view, what if the body is actually saying, “I really want solitude. I want to go into that cave. I want time to myself. I’m overstimulated, I’m done with people for now.” And what if from a spiritual perspective, it’s this is your time in life to really go within and have quiet time. And that when you’re ready, the body will relax and open up and just invite you to want to join the world again.
Being an introvert, as you say, and loving the peace and quiet and craving it, you are allowed to give yourself that and part of your healing and part of your rock steady path, if you follow the rock steady program, could be actually finding your sweet spot and your balance between time alone, quietness, solitude, and then exposure to crowds and people and choirs and concerts and parties and train stations and that extroverted part of life and finding the balance of how much is nourishing for you in both directions, because I’m sure too much solitude might not feel quite right and then too much extroversion not quite right. So it’s about getting that balance.
And then one more thing is just to be really noticing if you’re making decisions based on fear, because that will keep the fear cycle locked. So really stepping back and using the Rock Steady program and the rock steady path to ask, “Is this bringing me closer to pleasure? Is this bringing me closer to my joy? Is this taking me toward my desired sensations?” Because then it’s not about fear. It’s about pleasure, joy, softening, relaxing, opening up. And these are all little micro nuanced subtle decisions and choices we make every day. So that would be my big tip there. But please understand it’s reversible. Your nervous system is flexible and adaptable and it can change as quickly actually, the problem can change as quickly as it started. So I hope that’s helpful.