What causes and how to manage sensory sensitivities?

Symptom Database

Sensory sensitivities, also known as sensory processing disorder or sensory issues, can have a significant impact on an individual’s daily life. These sensitivities can manifest in various ways, leading to sensory overload, hypersensitivity, and difficulties in sensory integration. Understanding the causes of sensory sensitivities and learning how to manage them is crucial for individuals who experience these challenges.

What are Sensory Sensitivities?

Sensory sensitivities refer to an individual’s heightened or decreased response to sensory experiences. These experiences can include touch, taste, smell, sight, and sound. While everyone has sensory preferences and dislikes, individuals with sensory sensitivities experience these sensations in a more intense or overwhelming manner.

Sensory sensitivities can affect people of all ages, but they are particularly common in children. These sensitivities can be associated with various conditions, including autism spectrum disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and anxiety disorders.

Causes of Sensory Sensitivities

The exact causes of sensory sensitivities are not fully understood. However, several factors may contribute to the development of sensory processing difficulties:

  • Genetics: Research suggests that there may be a genetic component to sensory sensitivities. Individuals with a family history of sensory issues are more likely to experience them.
  • Neurological Differences: Differences in brain structure and function may contribute to sensory sensitivities. The brain’s ability to process and integrate sensory information may be altered in individuals with sensory processing difficulties.
  • Environmental Factors: Certain environmental factors, such as exposure to toxins or prenatal complications, may increase the risk of developing sensory sensitivities.

Managing Sensory Sensitivities

While sensory sensitivities cannot be cured, there are various strategies and interventions that can help individuals manage their sensory challenges. These approaches aim to provide individuals with the tools and support they need to navigate their sensory experiences effectively.

Sensory Integration Therapy

Sensory integration therapy is a commonly used intervention for individuals with sensory sensitivities. This therapy involves engaging in activities that target specific sensory systems to help individuals regulate their responses to sensory stimuli. For example, a therapist may use brushing techniques or swinging exercises to help individuals with sensory integration difficulties.

Environmental Modifications

Modifying the environment can also be beneficial for individuals with sensory sensitivities. Creating a sensory-friendly environment involves reducing sensory triggers and providing calming elements. Some strategies include:

  • Using noise-canceling headphones or earplugs to minimize auditory distractions
  • Providing a quiet space or sensory retreat where individuals can go to relax and recharge
  • Using soft lighting or natural light to create a soothing visual environment
  • Using weighted blankets or compression clothing to provide deep pressure input

Sensory Diet

A sensory diet is a personalized plan that incorporates sensory activities throughout the day to help individuals regulate their sensory experiences. This may include activities such as deep pressure exercises, fidget toys, or sensory breaks. A sensory diet can be developed in collaboration with an occupational therapist who specializes in sensory integration.

Education and Awareness

Education and awareness play a crucial role in managing sensory sensitivities. By understanding their own sensory challenges, individuals can advocate for their needs and communicate effectively with others. Additionally, educating family members, teachers, and peers about sensory sensitivities can foster a supportive and inclusive environment.


Sensory sensitivities can significantly impact an individual’s daily life, but with the right strategies and support, individuals can effectively manage their sensory challenges. Sensory integration therapy, environmental modifications, sensory diets, and education are all valuable tools in helping individuals navigate their sensory experiences. By embracing these approaches, individuals with sensory sensitivities can lead fulfilling and meaningful lives.

Haroon Rashid, MD
Rate author
Urgent Care Center of Arlington, VA
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