The word hyperacusis generally refers to cochlear hyperacusis, which is associated with tinnitus and an intolerance for normal, every day sounds, such as the refrigerator running. However, vestibular hyperacusis is equally disabling for the lives it affects, albeit in different ways. Dr. Marsha Johnson, an audiologist in Oregon, was the first to widely publicize vestibular hyperacusis in her many articles.
Vestibular hyperacusis is a mix-up between the brain and the sense of hearing. Instead of perceiving sounds as too loud or too high, the brain perceives them as movement sensations. A high note from a singer might trigger a feeling of falling, spinning, or floating. It is different from cochlear hyperacusis in that many people with vestibular hyperacusis can handle normal sounds just fine, but certain pitches and sounds that have higher than 85 decibels may trigger these sensations. People who have vestibular hyperacusis rarely have tinnitus co-morbidly, while as many as 86% of all CH sufferers have tinnitus.
While symptoms of cochlear hyperacusis range from ear discomfort at normal sounds to panic reactions at soft sound, symptoms of vestibular hyperacusis are generally linked to balance and feelings of moving. Someone suffering from vestibular hyperacusis may feel dizzy, sick to their stomach, or confused when in the presence of loud noises. Fatigue, anxiety, confusion, and even loss of consciousness are also common. Headaches, feelings of pressure in the ear or clutching for something to hold onto in a noisy environment is not unusual.
Because little is known about vestibular hyperacusis, there are few if any effective treatments available. Magnesium supplements have been reported to help in laboratory mice because they calm the nervous system, but most therapies that specifically target VH involve vestibular therapy, as with any vestibular disorder. An occupational therapist usually performs this type of therapy.