I have a "condition" in my right ear called hyperacusis. I've only ever had it in my right ear, my left ear remains, as far as I can tell, normal (although my view of what "normal" may mean in regards to hearing is probably, well, not). In my years of deduction, I've reached the conclusion that hyperacusis is basically a fancy term that audiologists have, after years of study, developed to describe, in great technicality, "over-hearing" (from the Greek roots huper - for "over," and akousis - for "hearing"). Hard to follow, I know.

It means that my ear hears too well, essentially. But not in the bionic hearing way. Click on the first link and read about it if you haven't already. The short explanation is that most loud sounds simply over-load the auditory nerve, and I experience the ear's equivalent to pain. If you stub your toe, you get the screaming sensation from the nerves in the toe. With the ear, though, you actually hear it. I know, it sounds weird. The closest example I could provide sound-wise is a television turned to a static channel, turned to max volume (think back to before you had cable, if you can remember that far) - that's what I hear instead of the actual loud sound I should be hearing.

I can't go to the movies, much less a concert, or ride the subway, or lead worship, or basically do anything that incorporates more than the tamest decibels of acoustic sound, without experiencing some level of effect. At times, when the nerve has been more agitated, or even when I am simply low on energy, it can be even more sensitive - just eating corn chips or taking a shower can be too loud.

I'm not much for complaining, so I'd like to think that I don't mention it that often, but sometimes I do have to make certain stupid life adjustments, particularly when I can't readily get my hands on an ear plug. Sit to the far right side of the person(s) I'm with at the movies, hold one hand over my ear, etc.. Even holding my mouth wide open sometimes help - stretching out your jaw, basically in the yawning posture - temporarily strains muscles in your ears that temporarily block the nerve from proper hearing. The Nazi's used to tell concentration camp prisoners to open their mouths when the bombs began to drop on the nearby towns. Prisoners that couldn't hear were not easily ordered around, I suppose. I first learned about this tactic in Corrie Ten Boom's The Hiding Place, I think.

In my particular case, the three most likely causes (in no particular order) are a) sudden nerve shock - caused possibly by a head injury or a loud sound (or series of loud sounds), b) nerve damage - likely caused by illness as an infant, or c) a condition wherein (basically) a blood vessel in the ear developed directly against the nerve, causing nerve agitation.

Causes 1 and 2 can be treated through drug therapy, basically concentrated muscle relaxers - the kind of stuff that is used to treat certain epileptic seizures. I was on Klonopin, one of the simpler forms of such drugs, for a while, and I didn't like it. It worked, inasmuch as it lessened or eliminated the condition, but it made me ridiculously sleepy and I didn't like drug dependency in the first place. I felt like an addict as it was, constantly being quizzed by the doctor about whether or not I felt as though I "needed" it. So if drugs aren't your thing, you're pretty much resolved to limiting the amount of sound that reaches the ear - ear plugs.

Cause 3 can be helped through drug therapy, but the most effective treatment is a relatively new procedure called Microvascular Decompression. For a while, after college, I considered this option pretty seriously - my audiologist would have conducted the surgery under the direction of one of the pioneers of the technique, Dr. Peter Janetta, but decided not to pursue it, on the advice of a few established audiologists and my grandfather, a retired, but still licensed, neurosurgeon. The problem with this condition is that they basically can't conclude whether or not it is actually the cause of the effects you experience until they have commenced the surgery - opened your head up to take a look. All of the various potential side effects that come with most types of brain surgery must then be considered - losing some of my hearing, all of my hearing, facial muscle control on one side, both sides, other types of brain damage, meningitis, death, etc...

So I stuck with ear plugs. I've been using the foam ear plugs from Wal-Mart / the drug store since I was a kid. I should have bought stock in these things. I even have a special way I like to cut them in half, at a slight angle, for easy insertion/removal and minimal visibility. I invested a few times in the expensive, custom-designed decibel-inhibitors (read: reverse hearing aid) - the kinds professional musicians often wear for performances and such. I lost them about as fast as I lost the cheap foam ones, so I quickly quit that.

Today my very good friend James sent me this link, about Ear Love (slight poor taste warning). I ordered a pair and look forward to using them. Should be less painful to lose than the expensive custom designed devices I've had to order through audiologists to date.

And now you know more about my right ear than you do about, well, the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow.

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