What is the Difference Between Tinnitus and Hyperacusis?

woman experiencing a loud noise

Hyperacusis is an intolerance of noise.

While tinnitus is generally defined as a ringing, hissing, or buzzing in the ears that is perceived by an individual but not caused by a noise that is actually being made, hyperacusis is an exaggerated response to real, but ordinary noises that occur in an everyday environment, and which do not normally cause annoyance for other people.

Hyperacusis can cause an individual to display a range of emotional responses and physical reactions to these sounds. The severity of the response or reaction will vary depending on the individual and the sound being encountered. The severity of hyperacusis also has a range, just like tinnitus, but the range starts at a higher level of impact on the affected individual and can in the most severe cases cause avoidance of sounds to the extent that the condition negatively impacts daily life.

According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, in order of severity from lowest to highest, the different types of hyperacusis include:

  • Decreased sound tolerance. This is an intolerance of sound that can result in the affected person avoiding annoying sounds completely, even if it means giving up things they enjoy. refers to various disorders involving intolerance to and avoidance of sound.
  • This is a strong personal dislike of certain sounds that can cause the affected person to react negatively due to a strong emotional response.
  • This is a more rare condition that is identified by the patient having a persistent and abnormal fear of any or all sound.

A person may have tinnitus, hyperacusis, or both. Like tinnitus, hyperacusis is not "curable", but it can be mitigated. Management of the condition is normally achieved by any of the following or a combination of several methods: counseling, cognitive behavioral therapy, sound therapy, and the wearing of noise canceling headphones or ear-buds. For some, hearing loss that occurs with aging may bring some relief, and hearing aids can be used to set sound levels within an acceptable range.

While tinnitus is generally defined as a ringing, hissing, or buzzing in the ears that is perceived by an individual but not caused by a noise that is actually being made, hyperacusis is an exaggerated response to real, but ordinary noises that occur in an everyday environment, and which do not normally cause annoyance for other people.