Dear Alice,

I have sensitive hearing. This is a major problem when I am trying to go to sleep. I find myself singling out every noise. Currently, I live in an apartment close to a major ventilation system. I can hear a very low frequency sound coming from it. It wouldn't bother me except for the fact that it is a random, consistent noise. Think of a ticking clock that doesn't tick at an exact rate, but ticks once, twice, maybe three times every second.

However, my roommate cannot hear this sound and my girlfriend can only hear it if she really strains to. Myself, I can hear it over music, TV, running water, etc...

I am beginning to envy people with hearing disorders. I am at the point I'd be happy to be deaf.

My question is: Is there a way to decrease my hearing ability at least in the lower frequency range?

Thank you.

Dear Reader,

You say your hearing is highly sensitive to certain sounds or noises that other people, such as your girlfriend and roommate, do not find loud, bothersome, irritating, or even audible. Alice cannot diagnose your symptoms for sure, but, contrary to what you state in your query, it does seem like you may have some kind of hearing impairment that's causing your sensitive hearing. (Hearing disorders are not just about hearing loss.)

Sensitive hearing can develop from hyperacusis, phonophobia, or recruitment. Hyperacusis, or hypersensitivity of hearing, is a rare hearing disorder in which tolerance to ordinary or everyday levels of sound or noises is lowered, so that they are heard as unusually and uncomfortably loud and intense. People with hyperacusis commonly have normal hearing otherwise, but may have tinnitus, or ringing in the ears. Phonophobia is a fear of hearing particular noises, usually common environmental ones or noises that have a personal connection or meaning attached to them, possibly out of concern that hearing ability will be harmed. Recruitment is a condition that involves hearing loss or an inability to hear soft sounds, yet, if any noises are heard at all, they are intense and loud, causing discomfort or pain.

If you haven't done so already, see your primary health care provider first to make sure that your hearing impairment is not due to a disease or illness. If not, ask your provider for a referral to an audiologist, or hearing specialist, who can evaluate your hearing and figure out what's going on. S/he may offer non-medical treatment options, such as behavioral counseling and sound therapy, which usually involve using noise-generating instruments to retrain your brain's signals to your ears so that your hearing becomes less sensitive. S/he might also suggest you see an Ears, Nose, and Throat, or E.N.T., doctor for further examination and medical or surgical treatments, if necessary. Stress management techniques to help relieve anxiety or medication to help you sleep are possible options for reducing your annoying symptoms.

Talk with a professional soon, not only to see what can be done to desensitize your hearing, but also to give you some peace of mind.


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