What’s the Difference Between Tinnitus & Hyperacusis?

There’s a clear distinction between tinnitus and hyperacusis. The former is a condition in which people hear phantom noises in their ears. Hyperacusis, on the other hand, is a disorder in which a person has an intense oversensitivity to sound.

However, these two conditions share some qualities, too. Both tinnitus and hyperacusis:

  • Can negatively impact a person’s quality of life
  • Cause a person to avoid certain activities or environments
  • Are treatable
  • May be resolved if brought on by an underlying cause that’s curable

Read on to learn more!

What is Tinnitus?

Tinnitus is a condition in which people hear ringing, buzzing, hissing, or other noises in their ears — despite an absence of an external stimulus. It can be intermittent or constant, and it can range from mild to severe. The noises may be sharp or dull, high-pitched or low-pitched, and they may change over time.

Types of Tinnitus

african american woman using her right hand to push her forward so she can hear better

There are four kinds of tinnitus, each with its own characteristics. It’s possible to have multiple types of tinnitus at the same time. How tinnitus manifests itself for you may differ from what others encounter.

Subjective Tinnitus
The most common form of this condition is subjective tinnitus, though no two people experience it in quite the same way. With subjective tinnitus, you’re the only one who can hear the noise. The sounds may fluctuate in intensity and duration over time.
Objective Tinnitus
Objective tinnitus is a rare form of tinnitus that can be heard by another person. For example, an audiologist using a stethoscope would be able to detect the noise. The sounds associated with this type of tinnitus are often synced to the heartbeat.
Sensory Tinnitus
Almost everyone with other varieties of tinnitus also has sensory tinnitus. It’s believed to be connected to auditory system abnormalities and is common to those with other sensory problems (e.g., hearing loss or migraines). Sensory tinnitus may cause a feeling of pressure in their ears and balance issues.
Somatic Tinnitus
Somatic tinnitus is attributed to irregularities in the body’s nervous system — like damage to the auditory nerve caused by accidents, injuries, or illness. People with this form of the condition may have lower tolerances to loud noises and difficulties focusing and sleeping.

Tinnitus Symptoms

Tinnitus is often characterized by the perception of sounds that are heard. Common noises that tinnitus patients report hearing include:

  • Beeping
  • Chirping
  • Croaking
  • Crackling
  • Roaring
  • Tinkling
  • Whining
  • Buzzing
  • Hissing
  • Pure Tone
  • Sizzling
  • Whistling
  • Clicking
  • Humming
  • Ringing
  • Music
  • Whirring

The symptoms don’t stop with the noises, though. There can be secondary signs of tinnitus — like the ones below — as well because the disorder can have such a comprehensive and disturbing impact on a person’s life.

  • Stress
  • Cognitive problems
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Troubled sleep
  • Low or erratic mood

It’s not uncommon for those with tinnitus to avoid certain sounds, foods, or activities that trigger or exacerbate their situation.

What is Hyperacusis?

crowd of people from behind walking in a major city during sunset

Hyperacusis is a condition in which people experience extreme sensitivity to sound. People with hyperacusis often find it difficult to tolerate sound levels that are considered normal by others. For those with this disorder, sound can actually cause them physical pain.

Among the kinds of sounds that might be bothersome to hyperacusis patients are:

  • Loud music
  • Noisy environments (e.g., crowded restaurants or stadiums)
  • Fireworks displays
  • Thunder
  • Traffic
  • Gunfire
  • Running machinery or appliances

As this condition can make sounds unbearable, people with hyperacusis may find it challenging to work, attend school, or participate in activities that involve loud noise. Hyperacusis can also lead to problems sleeping and concentrating.

Hyperacusis is rare — affecting only 1 in 50,000. (More broadly, according to the CDC, almost 6% of American adults have a “sensitivity to everyday sounds.”) Both children and adults can develop the condition. Hyperacusis can also be caused by trauma to the auditory system or head, medications, surgery, and illnesses.

Sound Sensitivity & Other Hyperacusis Symptoms 

Hyperacusis may be marked by several symptoms, like:

  • Sensitivity to sound
  • Noise distortion
  • Ear pain, discomfort, or “heaviness” 
  • Feeling like there’s a thudding or fluttering in the ears
  • Misophonia (a disorder in which a noise sparks a disproportionate or unreasonable emotional or physiological response)

The primary sign of hyperacusis, though, is extreme sound sensitivity — a lower tolerance for and heightened response to ordinary, “normal-volume” sounds. Symptoms can be in one or both ears and may be different on each side.

The sound sensitivity is so severe that it can have a dysfunctional impact on daily routines and mental well-being. Because hyperacusis can be so intense and discomforting, some people with the condition develop phonophobia, which is a fear of noise. This, in turn, can have its own ramifications — like withdrawing from social or professional opportunities.

Can You Get Both Tinnitus & Hyperacusis?

Yes, there’s a strong hyperacusis-tinnitus correlation. Even though hyperacusis is rare, people with tinnitus frequently experience hyperacusis. It’s estimated that about two-thirds of those with tinnitus also have some degree of hyperacusis.

Tinnitus and hyperacusis are also both associated with hearing loss.

Hyperacusis-Tinnitus Treatment Options

levo system manager with ipad, phone, and high fidelity earbuds

There are many possible treatments for hyperacusis. Treatment typically depends on the root cause of the disorder, the severity of the symptoms, and the person’s preferences. Some treatment approaches include:

  • Wearing earplugs, noise-canceling headphones, or earmuffs
  • Using sound therapy to habituate to the noise
  • Using auditory integration therapy (AIT)
  • Getting counseling to learn how to live with tinnitus and hyperacusis
  • Using a specially-tuned hearing aid
  • Taking medication to reduce hypersensitivity
  • Addressing other health concerns that are causing or contributing to the hyperacusis

Your doctor may recommend combining treatment options for a more effective care plan. If your hyperacusis is grounded in another medical condition, treating that other health issue may alleviate or fully resolve your noise sensitivity.

Levo Medical Hears You Loud & Clear: You Want Relief

One of the most common treatments involves exposure therapy and sound therapy devices. This is Levo Medical’s specialty.

You can find incredible relief with the Levo System — an advanced-technology sound therapy device that was created by renowned neuroscientists and clinicians. Working with a trained hearing expert, like an audiologist, will allow you to get a personalized sound therapy solution that’s proven to ease your symptoms and help you regain quality of life.
If you’re ready to quiet your tinnitus and/or hyperacusis, contact us to get started.

The Levo System is an FDA-cleared medical device that provides patients a patented personal sound therapy which through neural habituation leverages the cognitive abilities of the brain to reduce the symptoms of their tinnitus and improve the quality of a patient’s daily life.

Quick Links

Levo Therapy

Levo System

The Science


System Manual


1209 Orange Street
Wilmington, DE 19801, USA

General Inquiries: info@levomedical.com
Product Support: support@levomedical.com
Phone Number: Toll Free: +1 (866) 306-1387

FREE Tinnitus Relief Quiz