Study finds emotional stress may affect hearing in women

A new study by the Karolinska Institute in Sweden found that emotional exhaustion, particularly for women, is linked to hypersensitivity to sound.

After exposing 208 women and 140 men, ages 23 to 671, to five-minute intervals of physical, mental and social stress, women who were the most emotionally stressed showed the strongest sensitivity to sounds, including moderate to normal conversation levels.

The research, which was published recently in the journal PloS ONE, also found that while men included in the study showed some similar reactions based on their stress levels, the difference was not significant between those who were highly stressed by the testing and those who weren’t.

“When you are hypersensitive to sound, some normal sounds, such as the rattle of cutlery or the sound of a car engine, can feel ear-piercing,” said Dan Hasson, Ph.D., an associate professor in the department of physiology and pharmacology at the Karolinska 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.”

The study involved placing the participants’ hands in ice to create physical stress, as well as a mental stress test and observations of the study members in social situations, in which they felt uncomfortable. None of the participants reported unusual sensitivity to sound before the testing began.

Hasson, who also studies stress issues at Stockholm University’s Stress Research Institute, suggested that people who are undergoing treatment for hearing problems and their medical providers should consider stress and exhaustion as factors that might influence their hearing. People who are experiencing sound hypersensitivity sometimes become isolated because they are trying to avoid difficult situations.

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