A couple of posts ago I shared that my mother had moved in. She's been here 6 weeks now. My mother has some health issues and one is that she is super sensitive to sound. I had hoped the hearing problem would reverse itself quickly, but when it had not after a couple of weeks I made an appointment with a hearing specialist. We learned that her hearing is okay, except for some loss in the low tones, which is normal for her age.
The specialist listened to her story and told us that he thought my mom could retrain her hearing on her own, and would not require assistance from noise generators which cost $3000. He did tell us it will take from 9 to 18 months to adjust to hearing normal sound, and if she cannot accomplish it on her own, then we could look into getting the noise generators.
This condition is called hyperacusis and in reading up on it, I am finding myself horrified to learn how difficult it is for my mother. Wikipedia says, “In cochlear hyperacusis (the most common form of hyperacusis), the symptoms are ear pain, annoyance, and general intolerance to any sounds that most people don't notice or consider unpleasant. Crying spells or panic attacks may result from cochlear hyperacusis.”
I am further horrified to learn that many elderly people unknowingly bring this condition onto themselves, and often on the recommendation of their physicians. It is common for our older population to live in quiet neighborhoods, in silent homes. A very simple explanation of what happens is their ears become unaccustomed to noise and the tolerance for noise lowers. Sometimes these folks are told by their doctors to wear ear plugs to protect themselves from sound. This makes the problem worse. It's a vicious cycle where they were already noise sensitive to begin with and with the ear plugs, they become less able to hear sound.
And I'm not talking about loud children, boom boxes, honking horns, jet planes… I'm talking about normal every day noises. Like silverware on dishes, people talking at a regular level, doors closing, plastic bags being crumpled into a ball, fingers typing on a keyboard, a printer printing, a door closing.
Before my mom arrived she had warned me that she was sensitive to noise; I thought I could relate. I thought I knew what it was all about. After all, I had experienced noise sensitivity for many years. I can remember when my children were young and at times feeling like I was going to rip my hair out because they were making noise when I was stressed out or trying to concentrate on something. Even in recent years when my husband and our sons would be laughing and joking I would at times leave the room because I couldn't tolerate the noise without feeling stressed out. I believe that my problem was related to adrenal fatigue as I was in the early stages for many years. I even at times wore ear plugs.
I never liked wearing the ear plugs though, as it seemed like the noise inside my own head was even worse. I could hear the whooshing of my breath coming in and out of my mouth, the sound of my heart beating, the enormous sound of swallowing my own spit. It truly is loud inside one's head when the noise is trapped.
My hearing sensitivity decreased when I began GAPS and disappeared when I began supporting my adrenals. For me it was an easy fix.
In my mother's case, she began to have sensitivity to noise about a year ago. I believe my mother's health decline began after a minor fender bender in which she suffered a mild whiplash. Whiplash can cause problems with the thyroid which I think complicated everything.
From Stop the Thyroid Madness site: “Trauma, such as from automobile accidents, surgery, or severe uterine hemorrhage during childbirth can result in Sheeans Syndrome, which is hypopituitarism, and results in hypothyroidism. Cholecystectomy and Hysterectomy, as well as Tonsillectomy, can increase the risk of hypothyroid. Whiplash or neck trauma can cause hypothyroidism.”
My mother had already been pushing herself for many years even though she was exhausted. The noise sensitivity grew worse. She became less able to hear sounds. She couldn't stand to hear voices, television, radio, air conditioners, neighbors mowing their lawns, garbage trucks dumping trash, cars, motorcycles, dogs barking… everything became far too loud. In an attempt to protect herself she began staying at home, never leaving the house and she began wearing ear plugs (this is my Amazon affiliate link). She tells me that she went through several brands until she found the ones that work the best.
The ear plugs were not enough so her roommate provided her with a pair of gun muffs. That was better, but ultimately caused her noise sensitivity to become ever worse. It created a very difficult situation with her roommate as he was hard of hearing, and she could not stand to hear his loud voice.
When I got my mom here, as I said earlier, I thought the noise sensitivity would clear up quickly since my family would be quiet, as quiet as mice, in order to allow her to adjust to noise.
However, it is not that simple to re-adjust to regular sounds. As we learned from the hearing specialist, it can take many months of slowly reintroducing sound.
We are pretty quiet here. But living means noise. There are dishes to be washed, which clank and clatter and no matter how hard I try I can't seem to wash dishes silently! Annoyingly, the harder I try to be quiet, the more noise I seem to make. I close the door gently and the air conditioner turns on and pulls it just so that it makes a loud noise. Vacuuming cannot be done unless my mother is well protected as the noise is incredibly loud. Even talking normally is too loud. I've adjusted to speaking quietly while around my mother and now I am speaking too quiet to others, like my coworker who is having trouble hearing.
In researching this condition, I'm learning that silence is not always golden.
Think about it… in nature there are always sounds. Even if you are out in the middle of nowhere, you'll hear birds singing, crickets chirping, wind rustling through leaves on trees.
When I was raising my children, I remember reading that I should not keep my home silent when my newborn babies were sleeping as they would become unable to sleep and wake at any little noise that they heard.
For a long time I wanted to sleep in silence. My husband has always preferred to fall to sleep with the television on. I can't stand the flickering light and finally persuaded him to stop. Since we moved into a different bedroom my husband has been listening to the radio at night.
At first I asked him to turn it off as we were falling to sleep, but in the last week or so I've not said anything. Since I have begun having tinnitus since my amalgams removal (which some sources claim is linked to mercury exposure), I am finding that it helps me to get to sleep since my tinnitus is somewhat masked, or perhaps gives my ears something to concentrate on other than that high pitched whining which seems to grow louder when I focus in on it. By the way, tinnitus (referred by some as the “music of the brain”) is not to be feared. I'll write more about that sometime.
In the meantime, if you know someone with hearing sensitivity, please read up on hyperacusis and learn what it's like for that person, and please be gentle and kind when dealing with them.
For the record, I asked my mother for permission to publish this post as I did not want to violate her privacy. She was very pleased with what I had written, and thankful that I shared the post with her as she now feels that I probably understand what she is going through more than anyone else.