Why Noise Can Be a Pain in Multiple Sclerosis
One of the features of multiple sclerosis (MS) you don’t hear about much (pun intended) is noise sensitivity, also known as hyperacusis. Yet while it appears from my inquiries and from exploring the forums that hypersensitivity to noise and sounds is a common issue among MSers, there also seems to be amazingly little literature on the topic.
Everyone’s experience with hyperacusis is unique, but generally it is characterized by an increased sensitivity to everyday sounds in the environment, such as barking dogs, honking horns, traffic, clapping, and rattling dishes. The most irritating and disturbing sounds are usually high-pitched noises like a smoke alarm or screaming young children.
Some people with hyperacusis become so bothered by this problem they develop phonophobia, or fear of noise. This phobia can cause them to try to completely avoid situations and places that can have distressful noise. Unfortunately, that can lead to people becoming afraid to leave their home and being unable to cope in the real yet noisy world.
Hyperacusis and MS
According to the limited literature I could find on the subject, hyperacusis in MS can occur in one or both ears and happens in people who otherwise have normal hearing. The hypersensitivity is associated with demyelinating lesions present in the central auditory area.
One report explained the findings of three individuals with normal hearing, hyperacusis, and MS. One of the patients experienced sharp pain in his cheek whenever the phone rang while another felt intense sensations from various nonverbal sounds. The third individual experienced annoying echoes and problems with directional hearing.
All three patients underwent measurement of their brainstem auditory evoked response to measure their brain wave activity as well as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the brainstem.
The three individuals all showed changed auditory evoked potentials with suggestions of a lesion in the brainstem. The subsequent MRI then revealed demyelinating lesions in the ipsilateral pons and in the central auditory pathway.
How to deal with hyperacusis
In the study just mentioned, the authors suggested the use of serotonin reuptake inhibitors, which include Celexa (citalopram), Lexapro (escitalopram), Prozac (fluoxetine), and Zoloft (sertraline), but they can cause significant side effects. Another suggestion was acoustic lenses. Some people have reported some success using ear plugs or wearing ear muffs.
From what I can see, little research has been done on the issue of hypersensitivity to sound in multiple sclerosis. Has anyone found effective ways to deal with the pain of noise sensitivity in MS?