Noise Sensitivity in Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Big Problem, Very Little Research

A red horn is held close to a man's ear.
Noise sensitivity is a common symptom of fibromyalgia and ME/CFS. Thomas Vogel/Getty Images

More and more, noise sensitivity is being recognized as part of fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome. It's a very real problem for many of us -- in a recent poll here, it was one of the top sensitivities people listed.

Noise sensitivity can cause problems at work and in social situations, or just about any time we're in public. It might be the volume level alone, it might be a repetitive sound, or it might be a multitude of sounds -- no matter the source, it can cause anxiety, panic, and even widespread pain as the receptors in our brains become overwhelmed.

In spite of the impact it can have on our lives, this aspect of our conditions hasn't been studied much. We do have evidence that noise can cause pain in us, but that's about it. Recently, though, a friend brought a condition to my attention (thanks, Shelley!) that seems to describe us fairly well: hyperacusis.

According to The Hyperacusis Network, hyperacusis is "a collapsed tolerance to normal environmental sound." Essentially, it makes you overly aware of certain sounds, usually within a particular frequency. It's often associated with tinnitus (ringing of the ears,) which is common in us.

The description really describes my experience. I can tolerate some loud noises fairly well, but others will drive me crazy. When I encounter those sounds, all I want to do is get away from them or make them stop! It's like they worm their way right up my spinal cord and put every nerve on edge. Not long ago, I almost had to leave a fast-food restaurant half way through a meal because the alarm on the fryer was broken and wouldn't shut off.

I was close to panic when the awful bleeding finally stopped. No one else seemed to notice it much.

So far, researchers don't have enough information about this symptom in us to determine whether it is or isn't hyperacusis, but I think it's worthwhile for us to investigate this possibility if our noise sensitivity is having a detrimental impact on our health and lives.

A diagnosis could lead to treatments, reasonable accommodation at work, or a stronger disability claim.

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