Man hiding his head in the sand

How To Choose The Right Earplugs For Misophonia? Learn The Truth!

You don’t remember when it happened. You just remember one day becoming aware that the most amazing disgusting sound was being amplified in your head or ears. And the sound was coming from someone you loved so much, your dad.

Your first response was to yell at them to stop…

They looked at you strangely.

Then you noticed your little brother had a terrible chewing habit. The sounds he made were so disgusting and horrible. It seemed to stop you thinking.  And had this overwhelming desire to tell him off. You lost it at him.

You got into so much trouble for that.

And felt terrible afterwards. You knew you were disrupting your family.

In the end, it was easier just to get up and leave the dinner table than have to try to explain to them. You start using earplugs whenever you are around your family so you can't hear them make those sounds. It helps a little. It is hard.

You have misophonia.

Is There Anything Wrong With Using Hearing Protection?

Sometimes what we think is the best solution, may actually be making the problem worse!

Mum and dad see how unhappy you are. It's hard for them to understand what is happening to you. They are unsure about what to do. If only you were ok.

 If wearing earplugs or earmuffs or headphones makes you less reactive, it has to be a good choice. Or is it?

Two Hidden Truths About Misophonia

There is a certain hopelessness when you go online to learn about misophonia. The general feeling is that there is no cure and nothing helps expect to retreat and avoid the sounds. This avoidance is often not just to the offending sounds but all sounds.

This disturbs me. Over the last few years, I find more and more of my clients are either chasing the magical “cure” or are resigned to there is nothing they can do.

Dreadful thoughts to have both of them. I have two concerns about these thoughts.

Hidden Truth One:

In the health field, we are taught that using the word “cure” is unethical.

In health, we rarely cure. I don’t want to say that we don’t cure, but most things we class as a cure in the media also have resulted in some negative consequence for the person. Be careful of want you want in a health outcome.

I was taught to help the person seeking help from me to explore the result they wanted. If someone came to me and all they wanted was a cure, that's black or white thinking. My work started with helping them to understand that there were always more options or solutions than those two. Often once we began discussing and exploring other options, you could visibly see the person relax and just know what the right thing for them to do was.

Hidden Truth Two:

The other trend is the use of earplugs and earmuffs so you stop hearing the person making the sound.

What a way to shut out the family. When we talk about happier families, the message is usually about connecting with the family and being together. Not excluding oneself from being involved in the family.

This trend to use earplugs etc. to help misophonia has also noticeably increased over the last few years.

Are You Becoming More Sensitive To Sounds Over Time?

Sound is so important for all of us. We need sound to help us connect with our world and the people in it.

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What if wearing earplugs, earmuffs even headphones in certain ways is only making our reaction to sound or certain sounds worse. What seems a natural and logical thing to do, may actually be causing the problem of misophonia to become worse.

Why is being able to hear the sounds around you so important? Think for a moment, of being in nature, you expect a continuous background arrangement of sounds.

Silence is a warning signal, usually indicating the arrival of a predator. In our cities, we have constructed solid buildings, which exclude sound and give us privacy. This means that the rooms we live and work in can have very low levels of natural background noise, particularly at night while sleeping.

The ready availability of earplugs means that they are often used, not just to protect the ear from damage, but also to avoid hearing any sounds, particularly at night.

One of the painful consequences of avoiding sound by using earplugs is a different type of sound sensitivity problem we call hyperacusis.

If you are becoming sensitive to more and more sounds, you just might be developing hyperacusis as well. Hyperacusis is the term used to describe when a sound of a certain level hurts or creates a strong reaction when hearing that sound.  

Silence makes hyperacusis worse. More and more sounds become intolerable.

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There has been more work and research done with managing hyperacusis successfully than misophonia.This is because we have only started to recognise how misophonia is different to other types of sound sensitivity.

I have spent nearly 35 years teaching about the dangers of overprotection and avoiding sound. My work as an Audiologist has involved teaching people how to keep their ears safe and not damage them by using hearing protection. I have also had to help people understand that there is a fine line between damage from under protection and the consequences of overprotection.

Overprotection is removing more sound then is needed to keep your hearing safe.

Underprotection happens when you dont reduce sound enough to look after your hearing. 

The effects of loud noise on the hearing are well known.

The impact of avoiding sound and being in a too quiet environment is not understood at all.

Just a quick reminder: Protecting your hearing and avoiding sound by using earplugs etc. is a natural response when you believe that sound or certain sounds are bad. Just it may not always be the right way.

What Do I Need To Know?

If you had known that avoiding sound by plugging your ears or trying to prevent hearing a sound by seeking silence was making your misophonia worse would you have done things differently?

It was not your fault thinking this way. It is a very natural way to have thought about your problem with sound.

Just it was not very useful.

I want you to know that it is not too late to change this belief.

Five Little Known Facts You Need To Know About Sound.

How measure loudness of sound
  1. Loudness is strange. The loudness of any sound depends on the amount of difference between what you are listening to and any background noise. Just think about listening to your car radio on the road, with your volume at a comfortable listening level, and then arriving home and parking the car. You will probably turn your radio down. In this example, when you have no background noise from the car driving on the road, you no longer need so much volume to hear the radio. Sound appears louder in quiet than in noise.
  2. In silence, the loudness of even quiet sounds may be perceived as very loud. Early morning you hear the toilet flush when at night watching TV you barely notice.
  3.  We believe silence will help us by stopping us hearing the sounds we don't want to hear like unannounced visitors or the sounds of someone else's noise or snoring. Even the barking of your neighbour's dog will be louder when there is little background sound. We think no sound equals no intrusion. However the quieter a sound, the more we hear softer and distant sounds.
  4. Silence is considered to be relaxing and peaceful by most of us. The truth is silence activates our amygdala and autonomic nervous system. This results in intense anger, fear, fight and flight responses from us without our understanding why.
  5. An environment of soothing and background sounds relaxes us, not being in silence.

Knowing these 5 facts about sound hopefully helps you understand ways to help reduce how you react to certain sounds.  

Where To From Here?

I strongly recommend learning more about sound and the possible power of sound to manage your reaction to other sounds. I will be writing more about the things I cover in my consultation with you or your family about the usefulness of sound to help your misophonia.

What would be the result for you and your family if what you have just read was known when you first developed misophonia reactions?

What would you and your family have done differently?

About The Author

Nolene Nielson Audiologist

Nolene Nielson is a highly qualified and experienced Australian Audiologist. She has four decades of clinical experience in many aspects of Audiology, but specialises in the area of hearing rehabilitation for those with misophonia, tinnitus, hyperacusis and hearing loss.

She is passionate about using the principles of audiology, neurosciences, neuropsychology and solution based psychological approaches. She uses the latest practical clinical treatments to work with you to achieve the best results possible.