Read below about sensitivity to noise, including causes, treatment options and remedies. Or get a personalized analysis of your sensitivity to noise from our A.I. health assistant. At Buoy, we build tools that help you know what’s wrong right now and how to get the right care.

This symptom can also be referred to as:
Aversion to sounds

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Sensitivity to Noise Symptoms

If you have ever experienced a migraine or a hangover, you likely experienced noise sensitivity (hyperacusis) [1]. 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.

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 [1].

Environmental causes:

  • 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 [2].
  • 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:

  • Headache: Certain types of headaches such as migraines are associated with noise sensitivity, as well as other strange sensory symptoms [3].
  • Nerve dysfunction: Some conditions which attack the nerves of the ear can cause noise sensitivity.

Other causes:

  • 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.

7 Possible Conditions

The list below shows results from the use of our quiz by Buoy users who experienced sensitivity to noise. This list does not constitute medical advice and may not accurately represent what you have.

  1. 1.New Migraine

    Migraines are headaches of moderate to severe intensity, which happen when blood vessels in the brain swell up. They are episodic and thus can recur often. Most migraine sufferers experience increased sensitivity to sounds and/or lights and become nauseous and vomit.

    Migraine symptoms may resolve within a day or two, but the condition can come and go for a year or more. If any particular episode is unusually severe or does not respond to your customary treatments, you may want to see a doctor urgently.

    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
  2. 2.Concussion Not Needing Imaging

    A traumatic brain injury (TBI), or concussion, happens when a bump, blow, jolt, or other head injury causes damage to the brain. Every year, millions of people in the U.S. suffer brain injuries. More than half are bad enough that people must go to the hospital, and the worst injuries can lead to permanent brain damage or death.

    Most patients with mild brain injury recover within hours to days.

    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
    Primary care doctor
  3. 3.Hangover

    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.

    No more than 12 hours

    Top Symptoms:
    abdominal pain (stomach ache), fatigue, nausea or vomiting, headache, diarrhea
    Symptoms that never occur with hangover:
    being severely ill, fever

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  4. 4.Exertion Headache

    An exertion or activity-related headache occurs as a result of strenuous activity. This type of headache is often triggered by exercise.

    Within 1 day

    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:
    Symptoms that never occur with exertion headache:
    vomiting, double vision, fever
  5. 5.Post - Concussion Syndrome

    Postconcussion syndrome is a condition that happens after a mild brain injury. Symptoms can include headache, dizziness, fatigue, difficulty with concentrating and sleep disturbances.

    Typically, your symptoms will dissolve over the course of a few weeks and most people are back to normal in 3 months. If symptoms persist longer, your doctor might suggest medicines or other treatments.

    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, nausea, anxiety, mild or moderate headache, depressed mood
    Symptoms that never occur with post-concussion syndrome:
    severe headache
    Primary care doctor
  6. 6.Cluster Headache (First Attack)

    It seems that your headache could represent a first attack of a cluster headache. A cluster headache is a type of headache that is moderate to severe in intensity. It is often one-sided head pain that may involve tearing of the eyes and a stuffy nose. Attacks occur regularly for 1 week to 1 year. The attacks are separated by pain-free periods that last at least 1 month or longer. Cluster headaches may be confused with other common types of headaches such as migraines, sinus headache, and tension headache.

    Each attack can last from 15 min to 3 hours and occurs from once every other day up to 8 times per day. Cluster periods usually resolve in a few weeks to months but can last up to a year.

    Top Symptoms:
    new headache, severe headache, nausea, throbbing headache, congestion
    Symptoms that always occur with cluster headache (first attack):
    severe headache, new headache
    Hospital emergency room
  7. 7.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.

    Good prognosis after putting the jaw back in, but it can become chronic and may require surgery

    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
    Hospital emergency room

Sensitivity to Noise Treatments, Relief and Prevention

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:

  • 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 [4].
  • Medication: If your noise sensitivity is the result of a migraine, certain over-the-counter medications such as acetaminophen or NSAIDs such as ibuprofen 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 [5].

Professional noise sensitivity treatments:

  • 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.

You should seek help without delay if you have:

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Sensitivity to Noise

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

If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions, try our sensitivity to noise symptom checker to find out more.

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Sensitivity to Noise Symptom Checker 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 visits to the Buoy AI health assistant (check it out by clicking on “Take Quiz”).

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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.