Stress makes exhausted women over-sensitive to sounds

January 15, 2013

Women suffering from stress-related exhaustion exhibit hypersensitivity to sounds when exposed to stress. In some cases, a sound level corresponding to a normal conversation can be perceived as painful. This according to a study from Karolinska Institutet and Stockholm University's Stress Research Institute which tested sensitivity to sounds immediately after a few minutes' artificially induced stress.

The study, which is published in the online scientific journal , involved exposing 348 people (208 women and 140 men) between the ages of 23 and 71 with low, medium or high levels of '' to five minutes of experimentally induced physical (hand in ice), mental (performance on a ) and social (being observed) stress.

The results show that women with a high level of emotional exhaustion exhibit higher sound sensitivity after an experimentally induced stress exposure than those who were not exhausted. Some even experienced sound levels as low as 60 decibels, the level of normal conversation, as uncomfortably loud. People with a low level of exhaustion, on the other hand, became less sensitive to sound immediately after being exposed to five minutes' stress, a that the researchers describe as 'shutting their ' - a normal . The same trends could be observed in men, but the differences were not statistically significant. The researchers also point out that, interestingly, there was no difference in sensitivity to sounds between the groups prior to the stress exposure.

"When you are hypersensitive to sound, some normal sounds, such as the rattle of cutlery or the sound of a , can feel ear-piercing," says Dan Hasson, Associate Professor at Karolinska Institutet's Department of Physiology and Pharmacology and affiliated to Stockholm University's Stress Research Institute. "Given how common it is for people to work in environments with different kinds of disturbing sounds, this hypersensitivity can be really disabling for certain individuals."

An earlier study by the same research group shows that some 32 percent of working Swedes report some form of auditory problem (impaired hearing, tinnitus or both). It has already been established that stress is linked to hearing problems, although the mechanisms are not fully understood; the present study, however, is the first to demonstrate empirically a direct association between experimentally induced stress in humans and hypersensitivity to sounds.

"Serious forms of sound hypersensitivity can force people to isolate themselves and avoid potentially distressing situations and environments," says Dan Hasson. "Our study indicates that exhaustion level and stress are additional factors that might have to be taken into account when diagnosing and treating hearing problems."

Explore further: Teaching about hearing can save young people's ears

More information: Hasson D, Theorell T, Bergquist J, Canlon B. Acute Stress Induces Hyperacusis in Women with High Levels of Emotional Exhaustion. PLOS ONE, online open access 2 January 2013, doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0052945

Related Stories

Teaching about hearing can save young people's ears

March 5, 2012
Many adolescents frequently expose their ears to loud sounds, for example from portable music players. Some of them may think that 'the doctor said that my hearing is good, so I guess I can handle the loud volume'. A new ...

Job stress doubles diabetes risk in women

August 22, 2012
Work stress doubles the risk of developing diabetes for women who have little or no control over what they do on the job, according to a new Canadian study.

Recommended for you

Study finds gene variant increases risk for depression

July 20, 2017
A University of Central Florida study has found that a gene variant, thought to be carried by nearly 25 percent of the population, increases the odds of developing depression.

Study examines effects of stopping psychiatric medication

July 20, 2017
Despite numerous obstacles and severe withdrawal effects, long-term users of psychiatric drugs can stop taking them if they choose, and mental health care professionals could be more helpful to such individuals, according ...

In making decisions, are you an ant or a grasshopper?

July 20, 2017
In one of Aesop's famous fables, we are introduced to the grasshopper and the ant, whose decisions about how to spend their time affect their lives and future. The jovial grasshopper has a blast all summer singing and playing, ...

Perceiving oneself as less physically active than peers is linked to a shorter lifespan

July 20, 2017
Would you say that you are physically more active, less active, or about equally active as other people your age?

New study suggests that reduced insurance coverage for mental health treatment increases costs for the seriously ill

July 19, 2017
Higher out-of-pocket costs for mental health care could have the unintended consequence of increasing the use of acute and involuntary mental health care among those suffering from the most debilitating disorders, a Harvard ...

Old antibiotic could form new depression treatment

July 19, 2017
An antibiotic used mostly to treat acne has been found to improve the quality of life for people with major depression, in a world-first clinical trial conducted at Deakin University.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.