Do you often hear sounds that you find extremely annoying, but others don’t seem bothered by them? You may be experiencing hypersensitivity to sounds. This is a common symptom of bipolar disorder.
What causes sensitivity to noise?
The medical term for noise sensitivity, A.K.A. noise intolerance, is hyperacusis. It originates from a complication in how the central auditory area of the brain’s processing center recognizes sounds.
Subsequently, noises that may not appear loud to the average person can sound overwhelming to someone with hypersensitive hearing. For example, the scratching noise from a pencil or a running faucet could sound as annoying as a busy construction zone. Noises with high frequencies might be particularly irritating.
Generally, hyperacusis could be caused by noise-induced sounds, certain medications, and occasionally by medical conditions. There have been no formal connections to bipolar disorder, but it has been linked to depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), severe fatigue, and migraines. (Migraines have frequently been associated with bipolar disorder.)
According to Stockholm University’s Stress Research Institute, stress and emotional exhaustion have been linked to hearing issues. A study by the university found that women who experienced chronic emotional exhaustion were particularly vulnerable to hyperacusis that was caused by stress. After test subjects were briefly exposed to a physical, mental, or social stressor, those women heard the sound level of normal conversations as uncomfortably loud.
Misophonia is another type of sensitivity to sound. Those who experience this have “selective sound sensitivity syndrome”. This is when someone strongly dislikes a sound or a collection of sounds. They might display a very strong reaction (anxiety or even violent rage) that’s provoked by something as little as a pencil tapping on a desk, chewing sounds, or the sound of someone breathing.
Bipolar Disorder and Noise Sensitivity
Informal studies have suggested that a substantial number of patients who have bipolar disorder, also have a nearly painful response to noise, specifically occurring during a mood episode - such as mania. There isn’t enough research to confirm this.
According to Michael E. Thase, MD, who is a professor of psychiatry and director of the mood and anxiety program at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine, amidst an episode of mania, there are some areas of the brain that are activated and obtain more blood flow while glucose burns off.
As a result, senses are enhanced. Colors look brighter and these patients feel more intelligent. There’s an intensity and openness to experiences, which can include more sensitivity to hearing sounds. Concurrently, there’s a nearly opposite experience that happens with depression.
When these senses become revamped during hypomanic and manic phases, patients adapt and are more aware of ambient noise.
Depression can be a Symptom of Noise Sensitivity
During episodes of deep depression, noises may become painful.
Some patients don’t enjoy music while in a depressed state. While in a manic phase volume levels from music can feel like there’s a loud concert playing in their head, or another person’s music that’s playing can be distracting or even irritating. Bipolar disorder is common among people with this problem.
The Pain that comes with Noise Sensitivity
Being in a poor mental state can lead to sounds becoming torturous.
It’s not simply an annoying feeling, but rather a stinging, intrinsic, and exasperating feeling that’s painful.
You can ask yourself if the noises that you hear are purposely being made to aggravate you, if those who are making the noises are only having fun or if they are unintentionally making those noises as a consequence of their daily routine. If the answer is that it’s unintentional - which is generally the case - this can make them more tolerable.
Prevent Triggering Noises
Annoying sounds may not be the only things that trigger your sensitivity. Even enjoyable sounds like concerts or chatter from family members can get aggravating after a while.
Limiting the number of concerts or attending performances at smaller venues can be helpful because the fewer people there are, the less noise there will be.
Dining out can be irritating at times. Choosing to be seated in a quieter area or going during less busy times can make your outing more enjoyable. Maybe even getting take-out to bring home would be easier, since you can control your environment for the most part. Hearing aids can help filter out distracting background noise, so that you can focus on the conversations that are important to you.
How to Practice Self-care for Noise Sensitivity
After you get into the routine of being able to recognize your noise triggers and doing your best to decrease them, set aside time to be in silence by reading, meditating, or doing any other simple activity.
By avoiding triggers and practicing self-care, you can feel more balanced with fewer episodes of being too depressed or too hyperactive.
If you or a loved one are experiencing difficulty with hearing, maybe hearing aids would be a solution. Please contact us at Pure Sound Hearing for a complimentary hearing test and consultation.