What causes sensitivity to sound and how can it be managed?

Symptom Database

Sensitivity to sound, also known as noise sensitivity or sound sensitivity, refers to a condition where individuals experience an exaggerated response to auditory stimuli. This hypersensitivity to sound can be distressing and significantly impact a person’s daily life. Understanding the causes of sensitivity to sound and learning how to manage it can help individuals cope with this condition effectively.

Causes of Sensitivity to Sound

There are several factors that can contribute to auditory sensitivity:

1. Sensory Processing Disorder

Sensitivity to sound can be a symptom of sensory processing disorder (SPD). SPD is a condition where the brain has difficulty receiving and responding to information from the senses. Individuals with SPD may have heightened sensitivity to various sensory inputs, including sound.

2. Hyperacusis

Hyperacusis is a condition characterized by an increased sensitivity to everyday sounds. It can be caused by damage to the auditory system, such as exposure to loud noises or certain medical conditions. People with hyperacusis often find normal sounds uncomfortably loud or even painful.

3. Misophonia

Misophonia is a specific sound sensitivity disorder where certain sounds trigger intense emotional or physiological responses. Common trigger sounds include chewing, breathing, or tapping. Individuals with misophonia may experience anger, anxiety, or even panic when exposed to these sounds.

4. Tinnitus

Tinnitus is a condition characterized by the perception of ringing or buzzing sounds in the ears. While not directly related to sensitivity to sound, tinnitus can exacerbate auditory sensitivity. The constant presence of internal noise can make external sounds more overwhelming for individuals with tinnitus.

Managing Sensitivity to Sound

While complete cure for sensitivity to sound may not always be possible, there are various strategies and techniques that can help individuals manage their symptoms effectively:

1. Environmental Modifications

  • Creating a quiet and calm environment can help reduce the impact of external sounds. This can be achieved by using soundproofing materials, closing windows, or using white noise machines to mask unwanted sounds.
  • Avoiding noisy places or situations can also be beneficial. For example, wearing earplugs in loud environments or choosing quieter seating options in restaurants.

2. Relaxation Techniques

  • Practicing relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing exercises, meditation, or yoga, can help individuals manage their emotional and physiological responses to sound triggers.
  • Engaging in activities that promote relaxation and stress reduction, such as taking walks in nature or listening to calming music, can also be helpful.

3. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a therapeutic approach that can be effective in managing sensitivity to sound. CBT helps individuals identify and challenge negative thoughts and beliefs associated with sound sensitivity, leading to more adaptive responses.

4. Sound Therapy

Sound therapy involves using specific sounds or frequencies to desensitize the auditory system and reduce sensitivity. This can be done through techniques such as white noise machines, sound generators, or listening to calming music.

5. Supportive Interventions

Seeking support from friends, family, or support groups can provide individuals with a safe space to share their experiences and learn coping strategies from others who may be going through similar challenges.


Sensitivity to sound can significantly impact an individual’s quality of life, but with the right strategies and support, it can be effectively managed. Understanding the underlying causes and implementing appropriate techniques can help individuals cope with auditory sensitivity and reduce its impact on daily functioning. By creating a supportive environment and utilizing relaxation techniques, therapy, and sound-based interventions, individuals can regain control over their auditory experiences and lead fulfilling lives.

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