Phonophobia: Sound sensitivity and solutions

We all dislike a loud noises ringing in our ears. But migraine sufferers with phonophobia find even quiet sounds discomforting.
men with headphones in front of passing train

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As I am sure you are well aware, migraine attacks bring with them many, many different symptoms. These symptoms usually vary from person to person. They may even change from attack to attack. But did you know that a significant number of these symptoms involve becoming increasingly sensitive to certain feelings and sensations? Many migraine sufferers, for example, report becoming more sensitive to movement, the weather, and light. Another relatively common symptom of a migraine attack (and a symptom often reported alongside light sensitivity) is sound sensitivity. Phonophobia, as it is sometimes called, is an increased sensation of discomfort as a result of noise. Some findings even suggest that at least 35% of migraine sufferers experience photophobia when a migraine attack strikes.

men with headphones in front of passing train
We are all sensitive to sound, which is we feel discomfort if we turn our headphone volume up too far!

Sensitivity to sound is not something that only individuals with migraine experience. Every single one of us is, to some degree, sensitive to sound. Ever turned your phone volume up a little too much and rushed to pull your headphones off your ears? Ever walked past a building site and found the roaring drill a little too loud for comfort? These reactions are completely normal! They are all examples of our body responding to potentially harmful stimuli – in these cases, our body is preventing our eardrums from becoming damaged.

woman sitting on chair holding head in her hands
Resting in calm, quiet places is one of the best ways to help alleviate the discomfort of phonophobia

But when someone suffers from phonophobia, these reactions to sound are felt with things we would not normally find uncomfortable. For example, the ticking of a clock in the background, or someone chewing across the table from you, become just as discomforting as the drill we mentioned about earlier. This is because someone suffering from phonophobia have a reduced tolerance to sound. As a result, noises that most people would not flinch at are disruptive, even painful, for those experiencing increased sensitivity.

How can I treat phonophobia?

There are certainly steps you can take to help limit the discomfort produced by a sensitivity to sound. The simplest of options involves moving yourself to a calm, peaceful environment. Earplugs may also be an option, but sometimes applying any additional pressure to the ears or head during a migraine attack can increase pain. Another option is therapy, such as CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy). These kind of treatments help to relax your body and mind, the goal being a decrease in pain and an increase in comfort and happiness!

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