Noise Intolerance and Multiple Sclerosis

If you have MS and loud noises bother you, you are not alone.

People must think that I hate music, movies, parties or basically anything that is fun. That is not the case at all. It is just that these things tend to be so LOUD.

A comment from a reader about her own inability to tolerate noise really struck home. My need for things to be just a little bit quieter is such a part of me that I guess I completely forgot to think of it as another one of my "MS quirks." However, thinking about it, I know that this is part of MS - it is almost surely a part of cognitive dysfunction, as any noise really eats up every bit of capacity I have to think about anything else.

Turn up the volume even a little bit and it becomes almost painful, to the point that all I am thinking about is how to make it stop.

This has been a constant problem for me for many years (a couple of those years were even before I was diagnosed with MS). Some of the ways my noise intolerance manifests are:

  • I am unable to carry on a conversation at a party or at a dinner where there are other people talking, as I cannot maintain any sort of attention span for either what the other person is saying or how I can respond in a normal manner.
  • I become almost catatonic when the television or music is turned up past a certain volume, as I frantically search for a "Zen-like" quiet place in my head.
  • Certain types of sounds really disturb me. Cello music, for instance, feels like it is burrowing through my brain in an almost painful way. There are certain people whose guffaws and giggles make me almost violent (however, I am willing to consider the possibility that might be another form of lack of tolerance that has nothing to do with MS).

    There has been very little research done on this problem in people with MS. There has been some studies that have examined hearing loss in people with MS, but not noise sensitivity. One group described case studies of three people with MS who had pretty severe reactions to noise, including one person described acute shooting pain attacks in his right cheek when the telephone rang.

    This type of noise sensitivity was called "hyperacusis." Interestingly, the researchers proposed using "hearing filters" or prescribing serotonin reuptake inhibitors (the class of antidepressants that includes Prozac and Paxil) to see if that can provide relief.

    Bottom Line: I wish I didn't have this problem. I want to be more fun, instead of the person with the grimace so deep that my eyebrows almost touch while other people are enjoying raucous music or crowd noises. However, it is what it is, and I have learned how to deal with it - mainly by avoiding certain stores with loud music, certain people with loud voices and certain situations where people are cheering or booing at a television.

    If you suffer from noise intolerance and want to read stories and from other people with MS about their experiences, I have put together Noise Intolerance and MS: Readers' Stories Part 1 and Noise Intolerance and MS: Readers' Stories Part 2. I have also put together a list of suggestions on how to cope with noise intolerance in Tips for Dealing with Noise Intolerance and Multiple Sclerosis.

    I hope some of the stories and tips in these articles can help you find some relief.


     Weber HPfadenhauer KStöhr MRösler ACentral hyperacusis with phonophobia in multiple sclerosis. Mult Scler. 2002 Dec;8(6):505-9.

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