Noise Intolerance and MS: Readers' Stories Part 1

If noise makes you less able to function, you are not alone.

Even before my diagnosis with multiple sclerosis (MS), I had a really hard time tolerating noise above a certain level. At college, I would seek the library on weekend evenings, instead of hitting parties. I never was able to listen to music and do other things that required even a little bit of brain power. If I was driving and my passenger was talking to me, we were pretty certain to get lost. 

It took some time after my MS diagnosis to link my intolerance to noise to my MS.

It seems to be highly linked to cognitive dysfunction, rather than the mechanics of hearing, if that makes any sense. It is as if my brain is constantly on overload and any external stimulation that I have no control over is too much to process, causing me varying levels of distress. 

I asked readers with MS if they felt the same way as I did - that is, were they also intolerant of different kinds of noise. The response was overwhelming (so much that I had to break this into two articles). Here are some of the things they had to say: 

  • What a revelation! I was diagnosed with MS in ’93; and although I do not live my life focusing on MS, I have to bring it up when I have surgery or when I read an article such as this. My brain is so intolerant of loud tv commercials, neighbors stomping overhead, disordered noise, loud voices. I just looked up the appropriate word: CACOPHONY. My whole nervous system is affected. I’ve come to live a more isolated life to keep down discord.
  • Noise is very distracting and when I go to the movies I take earplugs and just put them in far enough to tone it down. When the noise is too loud I get ‘lightening flashes’ in my head. I can’t concentrate on ANYTHING if more than one thing is going on at a time. Noise is extremely hard to live with.
  • I’ve noticed this as well. My husband is hard of hearing and turns the volume up on the TV. For the past 11 years, I’ve told him to please turn it down. If I can hear it upstairs in my room, then it is definitely too loud. I don’t go to parties because of the noise. If other people around me are talking and I’m trying to talk with someone, it nearly drives me crazy. I just can’t concentrate on my conversation. I too thought I was the only one that this happened to.
  • My husband thinks I’m crazy when I tell him that the TV is too loud. It almost hurts! He’s a former drummer in a band, so you can imagine how his hearing is failing. It’s not easy living in separate worlds. I am so happy to know that I’m not alone!!! I thought that maybe I was being oversensitive.
  • Even talking on the phone for more than a few minutes gives me terrible headaches! I rarely go to movies anymore, and when I do go to one I consider is worth the big screen, I take earplugs, which only help a little. Noise and crowds (which usually occur together) send me into a really bad mood. I try to be tolerant, but the pain it causes is just too much. Therefore I now have to avoid one of my favorite activities – shopping at WalMart!
  • Wow, I’m happy to hear that I’m not the only one! Sensory overload is what I call it too and the earplugs in my purse come in handy. I have friends that like to “go casino hopping” and I’d much rather hang at home. Casino or parade noises jangle my nerves, and the effects stay with me for a few days.
  • I used to go to raves and parties and I loved it. I was diagnosed with MS in 2001, but had MS symptoms since 1996. I can’t handle loud/sudden noise. It makes me feel angry, stressed, anxious and out of control. I can’t have more than one conversation going on around me because I can’t concentrate. And high-pitched noise from kids (I have a 13- and 7-year-old) nearly does my head in.
  • Sometimes, when a noise is too sharp (like the sound of glass breaking or plates hitting against each other when I take them out of the dishwasher), I cry because it hurts my ears. Also, I have major problems concentrating at parties when too many people talk at once and there is too much background noise around me. It seems I am hearing things even louder than they actually are. The neuropsychologist was telling me that MS could not do that. Well, what do you know…
  • My husband was diagnosed with MS in 2008 (RRMS). One thing I’ve noticed with him is that he is very sensitive to unexpected noises (i.e. dropping something on the floor) and this happens even if he is the one that does it. Does anyone else experience this? I try hard to control my actions but things do get dropped or fall and there isn’t much one can do to totally stop that from happening. I have been equally surprised that he reacts even if he is the one that drops something.
  • I am a quiet person and the less well I feel, the quieter I speak. I work in a very loud store and have a headache most of the time. At home, complete silence is a blessing. I think I have always been sensitive to loud noises.
  • I am not a mean, angry or anxious person but noise and conflicting noises (conversations, radio, dog, paper rattling, etc.) just turn me into a raving lunatic. After the lunatic leaves then I end up in tears. Sad, I know. Knowing that this is a symptom of MS and not a mental disorder makes me feel better, though.
  • I noticed that recently that I become irritated by people talking for extended periods of time without a break. This is even at low volumes. I often have to leave the room for a few minutes, because otherwise I develop a mild to moderate headache. I have started to avoid chatty people because of this. I cannot tolerate people who talk for an hour without pausing. This may be just part of my character, I don’t know.
  • My former neurologist told me my MS doesn’t affect my hearing. I new he was wrong and move on to an MS clinic doctor. I am also sensitive to different pitch sound. High – goes like a knife through my brain, low- I can’t hear well (my husband’s voice). I also noticed that too much noise makes me nervous. I try not to stay long in noisy places because I will get sick.
  • The worse for me is summer. I have window air conditioners (which I need), but the noise from them drives me nearly mad! I can’t watch TV, either, because I can’t stand it being loud enough to hear over them. As I look back, this was probably my first MS symptom. People didn’t really mind when I didn’t want to go have fun, I would become so irritable they couldn’t stand me!
  • I was diagnosed with MS in November 2007. Within a few years I did notice a difference in my hearing but couldn’t put my finger on what the problem was. But soon I noticed that whatever the circumstance, whether I was having a conversation with someone, if the tv was on, if water was running, or if a fan was on, or if others in the room were in a separate conversation, I was unable to focus on my conversation and everything else sounded equally loud to me. Very disconcerting!
  • A few months ago my apartment building was testing the fire alarms, and since I live in a handicapped apartment, they have a blinding flash and a brain-shattering volume. When it went off while I was still asleep, I pretty much went in to an almost catatonic state with my hands over my ears and my eyes buried into my knees basically whimpering with over-stimulation of sound and sight.
  • I’m also quite sensitive to sound, and background noise or anything over a certain volume can cause me to shut down. Also, for about 14 years (starting around the time that some of the other precursor effects of the MS), I would have an almost painful reaction to bells of any sort. I never thought of it as being anything related to the MS, but from what it sounds like, others have experienced other similar effects.
  • I am now 53 years old and have been a musician actively playing for almost 35 years now I was diagnosed with RRMS about 2 yrs ago. I was sent for several MRI’s because I was experiencing Trigeminal Neuralgia, then came the MS diagnosis. I play guitar in loud rock bands and have had several episodes of foot drag, dizziness, then ultimately seizures. I was practicing loud last night and had another moment where I just lost my balance and fell forward on my face again whilst strapped into my guitar (thank God I didn’t break my guitar ).This has happened while I’ve been rehearsing too, usually after an hour of playing , then we’ll take a break , then this loss of co-ordination happens and I’ll look for a landing spot, so to speak. NO I don’t drink and it seems that I’m reminded by these episodes to wear ear plugs when practicing.
  • Just had a argument about closing the bathroom door with the fan going. Sometimes I don’t notice the background noise but then it comes to the foreground and that’s all I hear. Annoying. Very annoying. I am not crazy. Lots of people on this page have similar issues. I'm printing it out to win my argument. 

Read more - Noise Intolerance and MS: Readers' Stories Part 2

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