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Emma asked...

Sensitivity to noise

Hi, I have a 5 year old that as he has gotten older he has become very sensitive to loud noise or raised noise levels to the point where he will cover his ears and get very upset by it. He was not troubled by noise as a baby and we made sure to expose him to different noises and levels so it wouldn't affect him. However in the past year and a half/two years he has developed this sensitivity it was just if a loud bike or lorry went past or someone shouted and now it is affecting him at school during things like P.E if the noise leave gets too loud he becomes distressed. I check and clean his ears regularly and am at a loss as to what this could be.

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The answer

From what you describe Emma, it sounds like your son possibly has what is known as Hyperacusis.

This is a condition where every day noises are heightened and become unbearable for the individual.

This can occur at any age but is pretty common in children.

The symptoms often present by:

1. Inability to cope with loud noises- often having to cover the ears. 

2. Fear of noises or places which are crowded and noisy 

3. Anger, tension and frustration 4. Physical pain in the ear

Causes of hyperacusis include:

1. Tinnitus and hearing loss 

2. Injury to the ear or head or surgery to the ear 

3. Migraines and some medical conditions such as Meniere’s Disease and Lyme’s disease 

4. Medication side effects 

5. Disorders affecting the brain development or sensory function e.g. autism spectrum

Investigations by your GP would be advisable, to eliminate injury to the ear through infection or removal of ear wax.

A referral to an ENT specialist might be in order to so further examinations can be performed.

Treatment may not be possible my means of an operation but there are ways to try to make noise perception more bearable.

Treatment can include:

1. The use of support groups, counsellors and education around the subject 

2. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy 

3. Sound Therapy where Desensitisation to the disturbing noise is practised 

4. Management of conditions where noise levels are high.

Some practical ways to help your son other than those mentioned above could include the following suggestions:

1. Using ear protection when going to places where loud noises are present but ensuring that your son can still hear warning noises and alarms 

2. Preparing your son in advance when going out – perhaps visiting places during quieter times. 

3. Informing friends, family and teachers that if noise gets to an unbearable level that your son can ask for the noise level to be lessened or that he can leave the room. 

4. Gradually introducing a noise that upsets him in order to lessen his fear and anxieties and therefore increasing his coping abilities.

As mentioned previously we think it would certainly be a good idea to get your son reviewed by your GP and an ENT specialist.

Talking to your Health Visitor or School Nurse may be helpful too.

Answered by the Health at Hand nurses  

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