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Sensitivity to Noise Symptoms, Causes & Common Questions

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Last updated May 14, 2024

Sensitivity to noise quiz

Take a quiz to find out what's causing your sensitivity to noise.

Understand sensitivity to noise symptoms, including 7 causes & common questions.

9 most common cause(s)

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Cluster headache
Post-Concussion Syndrome
Exertion Headache
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Dislocation of the jaw
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Cyclic vomiting syndrome

Sensitivity to noise quiz

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Sensitivity to noise symptoms

If you have ever experienced a migraine or a hangover, you likely experienced noise sensitivity (hyperacusis). People talking, cars honking, pans clinking, and printers printing can become quite bothersome as each tiny noise is an insult to your brain. Such an auditory barrage can rapidly become unbearable.

Your ear is more complicated than its appearance would lead on. Deep to your external ear and ear canal are two areas called the "middle ear" and "inner ear." These regions contain tiny bony structures which conduct the sounds from the outside world to miniscule cells that turn those sounds into the nerve signals that your brain can interpret. This system is fairly complicated. If one piece falls out of place, you can experience sensitivity to certain noises or hearing loss.

Common accompanying symptoms of noise sensitivity

Noise sensitivity may be associated with these common symptoms:

Sensitivity to noise causes

Noise sensitivity is a symptom of a number of different conditions, most of which represent damage to the fragile hearing structures mentioned above.

Environmental causes

Environmental causes may be related to certain exposures or events.

  • Infection: Certain infections attack the structures of the ear and can cause damage leading to noise sensitivity or hearing loss.
  • Acoustic damage: Acute or long-term exposure to loud noise can damage the structures of the ear, leading to hearing loss or, counterintuitively, noise sensitivity.
  • Head injury: Trauma to the head or ears can cause damage to the tiny, fragile structures of the ear, leading to hearing loss or sensitivity to noise.
  • Drugs and toxins: Various drugs and environmental toxins can damage the ears, leading to noise sensitivity. One classic example is the hangover a night of heavy drinking can lead to a morning of pain, including temporary hypersensitivity to noise.

Neurological causes

Neurological causes of noise sensitivity may include the following.

  • Headache: Certain types of headaches such as migraines are associated with noise sensitivity, as well as other strange sensory symptoms.
  • Nerve dysfunction: Some conditions which attack the nerves of the ear can cause noise sensitivity.

Other causes

Other causes of noise sensitivity may be related to the following.

  • Autoimmune: Certain autoimmune conditions, where your immune cells get confused and attack your own body, can lead to noise sensitivity.
  • Psychiatric: Some mental health conditions promote strong reactions to loud noises.

This list does not constitute medical advice and may not accurately represent what you have.

New migraine

New, or new-onset, migraine means the person has never experienced a migraine headache before. A migraine is a one-sided headache that causes intense pain and throbbing due to blood vessels dilating in the brain.

The exact reason for new-onset migraine headache is not known, but a number of causes are being studied:

  • Pregnancy.
  • Soy isoflavone supplements, especially in men.
  • Use and overuse of certain medications.
  • Traumatic head injury.
  • Angioma, which is a cluster of dilated blood vessels in the brain.
  • A complication of surgery for some heart conditions.

Anyone with a sudden severe headache should be seen by a medical provider, so that a more serious cause can be ruled out. A transient ischemic attack, also known as TIA or mini-stroke, can have symptoms similar to a migraine but is far more serious.

Diagnosis is made through patient history, physical examination, and imaging such as a CT scan.

Treatment for migraine varies with the individual. Lifestyle changes may be recommended and there are a number of medications that may be tried.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: new headache, fatigue, nausea, mild headache, headache that worsens when head moves

Symptoms that always occur with new migraine: new headache

Symptoms that never occur with new migraine: fever, diarrhea, productive cough, headache resulting from a head injury

Urgency: Self-treatment

Recurrent migraine

Recurrent migraines are repeated bouts of intense headaches. The signature symptom is throbbing pain. They can sometimes be accompanied by nausea or vomiting, dizziness, and light, smell, or sound sensitivity. The cause is considered unknown. Some can feel a migraine attack coming on when exposed to certain foods or smells, while others have no warning at all.

If your migraines are unusually severe or do not respond to your normal treatment, you should consider visiting a healthcare provider to discuss your symptoms. Your provider can evaluate migraine with a review of your symptoms. Imaging and other tests may be performed to rule out other conditions. Migraines can be managed with increased rest, medication, massages, and proper hydration.

Post-concussion syndrome

Concussion symptoms tend to last for a few days to weeks. Sometimes, symptoms are long term, lingering for several months or even years. This is known as post-concussion syndrome (PCS). Some of the most common PCS symptoms include headaches and confusion. Memory problems and difficulty concentrating may also occur.

You should consider visiting a medical professional in the next two weeks to discuss your symptoms. A doctor can evaluate PCS with a review of your symptoms and an MRI. Once diagnosed, treatment depends on your specific symptoms but often focuses on letting the brain rest and recuperate. You may be asked to temporarily stop sports and exercise until you are cleared to return.


Insomnia disorder means being unable to fall asleep, or to stay asleep long enough to get the normal seven to eight hours of sleep per night.

Common causes are pain; sleep apnea; depression; stress and worry over life events; circadian rhythm disorders such as jet lag; aging; and certain medications.

Many medical conditions, such as diabetes and heart disease, cause poor sleep. Women who are pregnant or menopausal may experience insomnia due to hormone shifts.

Symptoms include waking up during the night; feeling tired in the morning; daytime sleepiness and irritability; and increased errors and accidents through inability to concentrate.

Diagnosis is made through physical examination, patient history, and sometimes testing at a sleep study center.

Treatment consists of addressing underlying medical conditions, along with managing stress and checking all medications and supplements.

Improving "sleep hygiene" means establishing a routine of lying down in a dark room at the same time each night, with no television, computer, or phone. Avoiding food and caffeine before bedtime will prevent heartburn and wakefulness while trying to sleep.


Hangovers occur after consuming alcohol. People often wake up the morning after a night of drinking feeling a general feeling of sickness and fatigue. The unpleasant symptoms include headache, nausea, dizziness, and dehydration.

You will begin to feel better in a few hours. Rehydrating with fluids, most importantly water, and taking an over-the-counter pain medication like acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil) will help with your symptoms.

Exertion headache

An exertion headache is also called a primary or primary exercise headache. It is a headache brought on by exercise, especially anything that increases the pressure in the abdomen or chest such as lifting weight, coughing, sneezing, or sexual intercourse.

The exact cause is not known. It may be due to exercise causing blood vessels to dilate within the brain and skull, especially if working out during hot weather and/or at high altitudes.

Symptoms include a brief, throbbing headache on both sides of the head. The headache begins during or shortly after exercise and usually resolves within minutes.

If not treated, the exertion headaches may become more painful and last longer.

Diagnosis is made through patient history. A CT scan or MRI of the brain may be done to rule out any serious illness, as well as tests for other conditions such as coronary artery disease or meningitis.

Treatment involves a trial of anti-inflammatory and/or blood pressure medication, as directed by the medical provider.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: headache, sensitivity to light, sensitivity to noise, headache with a pressing or tightening quality, headache near both temples

Symptoms that always occur with exertion headache: headache

Symptoms that never occur with exertion headache: vomiting, double vision, fever

Urgency: Self-treatment

Dislocation of the jaw

A jaw dislocation is when the bones of the mandible (lower jaw) come unhinged from the bones of the side of the head.

You should go to the ER, where the jaw can be put back into place and the possibility of fractures of the bones can be ruled out.

Rarity: Rare

Top Symptoms: jaw pain from an injury, locking or dislocating jaw

Symptoms that always occur with dislocation of the jaw: jaw pain from an injury

Urgency: Hospital emergency room

Cyclic vomiting syndrome

Cyclic vomiting syndrome is characterized by episodes of severe vomiting that have no apparent cause. Episodes can last for hours or days and alternate with relatively symptom-free periods of time.

You should visit your primary care physician to talk about symptoms and potential treatment options.

Concussion not needing imaging

A concussion is also known as traumatic brain injury or TBI.

Concussion is the result of being struck in the head. In some cases, especially with infants, being violently shaken so that the head whips back and forth can also cause a concussion.

Most susceptible are those playing contact sports. However, concussion is often the result of an automobile accident or simple fall and can happen to anyone.

Symptoms include headache; loss of balance and coordination; difficulty with memory and concentration; and sometimes, but not always, loss of consciousness.

If symptoms do not clear within a few hours, or seem to get worse, take the patient to the emergency room or call 9-1-1.

Diagnosis is made through patient history and physical examination. A mild concussion does not show up on imaging because there is no bleeding or swelling in the brain. Mild concussion is entirely a disruption in brain function, with nothing to see on an image.

A concussion does not usually need treatment, but head injuries can result in more serious complications, like bleeding in the brain, you should be seen for an evaluation today, just to be sure. The health care provider will determine if imaging of your head, like a CT scan, is necessary. If your symptoms change or worsen, go to the ER immediately.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: dizziness, irritability, depressed mood, difficulty concentrating, trouble sleeping

Symptoms that always occur with concussion not needing imaging: head or face injury

Symptoms that never occur with concussion not needing imaging: recent fall from 6 feet or higher, severe vomiting, posttraumatic amnesia over 30 minutes, slurred speech, fainting, moderate vomiting

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Cluster headache (first attack)

A "new onset" cluster headache means that the person has never experienced a before. These headaches most commonly start after age 20.

A cluster headache is characterized by intense pain on one side of the forehead, especially over one eye. It often strikes in "clusters," meaning the headache comes and goes frequently. It may occur at about the same time of day for several days or weeks in a row.

The specific cause for cluster headache is not known. Drinking alcohol, breathing strong fumes, exercising to the point of becoming overheated, and heavy smoking are all possible triggers.

Diagnosis is made through patient history, since there is no specific test for cluster headache. Blood tests, neurologic tests, and imaging such as a CT scan or MRI may be done to rule out any other cause for the new onset of head pain.

Referral will be made to a headache specialist, who can offer new treatments to help the patient manage the symptoms and improve quality of life.

Rarity: Uncommon

Top Symptoms: new headache, severe headache, nausea, throbbing headache, congestion

Symptoms that always occur with cluster headache (first attack): severe headache, new headache

Urgency: Hospital emergency room

Sensitivity to noise treatments and relief

The most common causes of noise sensitivity can be managed at home. Noise sensitivity associated with a headache (such as during a migraine), is annoying but manageable and not representative of damage to your hearing. However, any sort of chronic noise sensitivity or rapid onset noise sensitivity without a clear cause warrants a visit to your physician. In these cases, the symptom may represent damage to the structures in your ear and acts as a warning sign for irreversible hearing loss.

At-home noise sensitivity treatments

You can begin addressing your noise sensitivity symptoms at home with the following methods.

  • Rest: If you can, resting in a dark and quiet room can help with noise sensitivity until the symptom passes.
  • Avoidance: Noise sensitivity triggered by exposure to loud noises can be mitigated by avoiding those noises, or by use of proper protective equipment.
  • Medication: If your noise sensitivity is the result of a migraine, certain over-the-counter medications such as acetaminophen or NSAIDs such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) can help alleviate the symptom. Migraine medications containing several ingredients including caffeine, such as Excedrin Headache, can also be quite helpful.
  • Hydration: Keeping yourself appropriately hydrated can be of use in getting rid of noise sensitivity, specifically in the case of a hangover.

Medical noise sensitivity treatments

After consulting your physician for persistent noise sensitivity, he or she may recommend the following.

  • Hearing test: If you visit a doctor complaining of noise sensitivity, they will likely test your hearing and take a look inside your ear with an otoscope.
  • Medications: Your doctor may prescribe certain medications to help control the root cause of your noise sensitivity, such as powerful anti-migraine medications.
  • Hearing aids: If your noise sensitivity is associated with hearing loss, you may be recommended to get hearing aids.
  • Therapy: For certain conditions, progressive exposure to loud noises or behavioral therapy may be used to help retrain your ears' sensitivity.

When noise sensitivity is an emergency

You should seek help without delay if you have:

Questions your doctor may ask about sensitivity to noise

  • Does light bother your eyes more than usual?
  • Have you experienced any nausea?
  • Are you experiencing a headache?
  • Have you noticed any vision changes?

Self-diagnose with our free Buoy Assistant if you answer yes on any of these questions.

Sensitivity to noise statistics

People who have experienced sensitivity to noise have also experienced:

  • 13% Sensitivity To Light
  • 8% Headache
  • 7% Nausea

People who have experienced sensitivity to noise were most often matched with:

  • 66% Concussion Not Needing Imaging
  • 16% New Migraine
  • 16% Hangover

Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from Buoy Assistant (a.k.a. the quiz).

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The stories shared below are not written by Buoy employees. Buoy does not endorse any of the information in these stories. Whenever you have questions or concerns about a medical condition, you should always contact your doctor or a healthcare provider.
Dr. Rothschild has been a faculty member at Brigham and Women’s Hospital where he is an Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. He currently practices as a hospitalist at Newton Wellesley Hospital. In 1978, Dr. Rothschild received his MD at the Medical College of Wisconsin and trained in internal medicine followed by a fellowship in critical care medicine. He also received an MP...
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  1. Hyperacusis. NHS. Updated July 3, 2016. NHS Link
  2. Noise-Induced Hearing Loss. National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD). Updated February 7, 2017. NIDCD Link
  3. Woodhouse A, Drummond PD. Mechanisms of Increased Sensitivity to Noise and Light in Migraine Headache. Cephalalgia. 1993;13(6):417-421. NCBI Link
  4. Hyperacusis: Signs and Symptoms. UCSF Health. UCSF Health Link
  5. Headaches and Dehydration. National Headache Foundation. National Headache Foundation Link