Painful noises: when the brain becomes a pain enhancer

Painful noises: when the brain becomes a pain enhancer

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Noise sensitivity creates stress
Everyone feels noise differently. A city dweller will see road traffic as far less disturbing than someone who lives in a quiet side street in the village. The sensitivity is fundamentally different for every person. With increasing age, however, the risk increases that the ear is already damaged and thus more vulnerable to diseases caused by noise. Even those who are stressed are sensitive to noise. This can lead to sensitivity to noise.

With so-called hyperacusis, i.e. hypersensitivity to noise, even everyday noises are perceived as unpleasant. "In audiometric examinations by the ENT doctor or hearing aid acoustician, hyperacusis is caused by a significantly lower level of discomfort (UBS)", explains ENT doctor Dr. Uso Walter from HNOnet NRW, an association of resident ENT doctors. "The test tones are already experienced as unpleasant at 50 or 60 dB - this corresponds to normal conversation volume or a quiet radio."

However, the hearing itself is not damaged in most patients with hyperacusis. The error lies rather in the neurological processing of the sounds in the brain. As with an amplifier that is set incorrectly, the central acoustic processing no longer suppresses unimportant noise, but passes it on unfiltered or even amplifies it. Although causes have not yet been fully clarified, the phenomenon often occurs when there is acoustic overload or stress. Those affected quickly get into a negative spiral: noise causes stress to those affected, stress increases sensitivity to noise and this triggers even more stress reactions.

- 80 decibels correspond to loud speech or a telephone ring. They survive sensory cells for up to eight hours a day without damage.

- 88 decibels reach a main road, a jackhammer seven meters away or a door bang. They only survive hair cells four hours a day.

- 94 decibels of damage begin after an hour. By the way, 94 dB corresponds to a normal MP3 player

- 105 decibels develops a drum kit, rock concert or a chainsaw. Auditory cells can withstand them for just under five minutes without losses.

In order to escape the vicious circle of stress and noise, going to the ENT doctor is inevitable. The therapy for noise sensitivity consists of hearing training, in which the person concerned is confronted with pleasant noises increasing in volume. This activates the suppression mechanisms in the area of ​​central hearing processing and over time even unpleasant noises become tolerable. Conversely, deliberate isolation of acoustic stimuli increases the sensitivity to noise more and more. It is therefore important to avoid any silence. "Hearing training practically always leads to a quick improvement of the symptoms," emphasizes Dr. Walter. "After two months, 90 percent of those affected are free of symptoms again."

Noise damages the ear
Persistent noise or acute noise peaks can directly damage the hair cells in the inner ear and thus lead to temporary hearing loss. Normally the cells recover during the breaks and those affected hear normal again after a few hours at the latest. However, if the ears are permanently exposed to noise and are not rested, the hair cells die. Since these are nerve cells that can no longer grow back, they are irrevocably lost.

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