Sound sensitivity (phonophobia) as the first sign of migraine

Sound sensitivity (phonophobia) as the first sign of migraine

You are having what you think will be a migraine-free day. You go about your business and don’t give migraine a second thought, as you don’t have any reason to believe you’ll have one that day.

You have a productive morning at work and get so much done you decide to meet a friend for lunch at a favorite restaurant. You feel a little tired, sure, but it’s nothing that a healthy lunch and tall glass of water won’t fix. You settle down at a table and start chatting with your friend, and suddenly the toddler behind you is very unhappy.

The crying starts full-force, a wail that trickles into steady sobbing and whining for a couple of minutes. Without realizing you’re doing it, you’ve dropped your fork and are covering your ears with your palms. Your friend looks at you strangely, and you realize you could look to outsiders as if you are reacting rudely to the baby. Everyone has tough days, including tiny kids, and you are usually the most understanding (after years of nannying), but right now your eyes are half-shut and your hands are over your ears rather dramatically. No one else in the restaurant has reacted this way.

That’s when you realize that, despite the way the morning had progressed, this was likely going to be a migraine day.

You drop your hands and shoot a quick smile to the dad trying to calm the child down, as a way of showing him that you are not judging. You were just startled by the noise. You finish lunch and chat with your friend, but you’re more distracted than you were before. You start thinking about what you have to do that afternoon and how your agenda will have to change if this migraine does emerge.

You scoot your chair back loudly and are shocked that the whole restaurant hasn’t looked over toward that horrifically loud screech. You drop your ear to your shoulder instinctively, as if to block the noise in at least one ear even though the screech has already ended. Your instincts are to protect your sensitive head and hearing.

An hour after lunch, you realize you need to call it a day at work. You wrap up a couple of emails and stretch your neck and back. You rub your temples and shut the computer down. It’s time to head home, take some migraine medication, and be prepared to be homebound the rest of the day if the medication doesn’t work effectively.

Have you ever had the experience of realizing a migraine was coming only after you reacted dramatically to a loud sound or bright light? Have strangers shot you odd or confused glances when you cover your ears to a sound that is, to them, at a normal volume?

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Comments

View Comments (25)
  • msruff
    4 years ago

    In this season of holiday cheer, I cringe every time I go near a store and have to listen to the ubiquitous bell ringers. My hands instinctively fly up to cover my ears, because the noise is so grating. I’ve given up worrying about what other people will think. The large crowds and endless talking are no help, either. Many a migraine has been spawned in this way.

  • The Migraine Girl moderator author
    4 years ago

    msruff,

    I know just what you mean regarding “the ubiquitous bell ringers.” I was walking into a grocery store the other day and deliberately went the long way around into their side entrance so I could avoid being too close to the bells.

    I hope you’re feeling well today.

    -Janet G.

  • Azure Fire
    5 years ago

    I, too suffer with noise induced migraines. The worst places for me are the grocer’s & restaurants. What truly angers me is the attitude I receive from my husband’s family. Even my husband has been upset with me over my sensitivity to shrill noises. As if this is my fault! He & my in-laws want me “to just ignore it”. Right! Like that works! Any helpful advice would be appreciated.

  • Katie M. Golden moderator
    5 years ago

    Azure Fire,
    I’ve found that the best way to help your family understand what you go through is to forward them an article about the topic or someone else’s personal experience (like this blog post). There’s something about it coming from a different source, other than you that all of the sudden makes it credible.

    Here’s a basic article about phonophobia.
    http://migraine.com/migraine-symptoms/sensitivity-to-sound/

    I hope they become more sympathetic!
    -Katie

    http://migraine.com/migraine-symptoms/sensitivity-to-sound/

  • Justanothermigraine
    5 years ago

    I once thought I had autism because all external stimuli was too much – bright lights, all noises, even my young kids constantly touching me would drive me crazy. I have chronic daily migraines with some episodes that are really bad. I get so emotional when the migraines come that I have trouble with many relationships. Of course this is due to people who are insensitive and think I’m inflating my migraines. For this, I’ve learned to never share how I feel physically or emotionally with unsafe people. I recommend the book, Safe People to understand who is trustworthy and who is not. I believe people with migraines have heightened sensitivites across the board. And there needs to be a social movement to stop the migraine bullies of the world.

  • Bethany29
    5 years ago

    I agree. 🙂 Thank you for sharing~

  • Sherri
    5 years ago

    I suffer with noise and sight and smell sensitivity every day. The dogs barking, the TV is too loud, sirens, fireworks on the 4th, perfume, or any other smell. I came home from work and could smell what fast food was in my house for lunch, 6 hours later. I can’t go to a concert because of the noise or lights. Sometimes, before I realize it, I began to yell at my husband because the TV is to loud or there is just to much going on around me and I can’t take it, but I don’t realize I can’t take it until it is to late, and I realize I am way overstimulated. When I went to get my son’s senior pictures taken, the photography flash caused me to have a severe migraine within an hour. Ever since I have been on blood pressure RX, Candesartan, it has helped limit the number of days, and the severity, but I still have these issues daily. The best advise I can give you is to read as much literature you can, share it with your family, stay in a support group, and actually seek out a neurologist that is a migraine specialist. I have one son who is supportive, a great husband, and another son who thinks it is all in my head.

  • MigraineQueen
    5 years ago

    So, one would think a physician woul understand phonophobia. I had to go to the ER with a migraine, ‘the worst headache of my life’. It was about 1 AM, I had a hoodie on and up over my head, sunglasses on (since I was hyper sensitive to light). After sitting and waiting for over an hour with the worst head pain of my life. I realized they had called security on me … Due to the sunglasses after midnight. REALLY?? Then, when I finally get back to see the dr … Who had one volume, MEGAPHONE! I kept asking him to quiet down, I couls hear him. After all, the dead could hear him! My husband asked him to speak softer, but Mr Megaphone persisted. Eventually, I said, “YOU, have got to SHUT UP!” And at that point. I. completely collapsed on the gurny. Once, i received my meds, came home to peace and QUIET and slept it off.

  • barryolliver
    5 years ago

    Sounds do seem to get louder before a migraine hits, but even more noticeable is that almost every sound is distracting. For example if I’m in a conversation with someone, every other sound draws my attention away from the speaker so much that I have to try to piece together what is being said from the few words I pick up. It can result in some awful faux pas. And if there is more than one person within earshot who is talking (even if they are at different volumes), all the conversation threads get mixed up and I get totally lost. Sometimes when this happens I’m more or less able to follow one speaker if I concentrate on watching their lips at the same time. But it takes a lot of concentration and it quickly becomes very tiring.

  • The Migraine Girl moderator author
    4 years ago

    Oh, that’s really interesting. I, too, will become more easily distracted by sound AND sights when a migraine is coming on. Even if the sensations aren’t necessarily stronger, I can’t avoid being distracted by them. Thanks for this comment (and pardon my delayed reply).

    -Janet G.

  • Bethany29
    5 years ago

    I understand. I have these difficulties, as well.

  • TracyM09
    5 years ago

    Well, it sounds like Phonophobia is more prevalent than I thought! In restaurants the sounds are so abundant anyway, dishes clanking, silverware clinking…however, the sound that puts me under is the sudden full blast “shriek” usually from a little girl not getting her way!! Once that happens our dinner is done and I go outside. I find that if I can control the sounds around me I’m ok. Ear plugs are with me all the time, as with everyone else! I also have tried walking through the Mall with Earphones and some soothing music, it helps a lot!! When I need to interact with anyone I just remove one plug to let them know I can hear them, oh, and to not be rude!! I don’t know if anyone else notices, however, I always have the photophobia and Phonophobia, they just don’t go away. Be Well!

  • Doug
    5 years ago

    I usually wake up with a migraine. However, there are some days that I do not. I feel good and I get the day started. Then, suddenly at some point in the day, I hear one noise or see one flash of light, and I am done. My day is over. If the abortive drug works I might stand a chance, but usually my head and stomach are overwhelmed, and my body just shuts down. This has literally happened over seeing an ambulance in the rear view mirror, being flashed a reflection of someone’s phone screen, walking through in a busy area like a mall, or even hearing a low volume sound that is in a weird timbre or frequency. I feel really bad, because often my wife is the source of the sound. She could elevate her voice slightly or bump two dishes together in the kitchen and I am down with a painful headache almost instantly.

    I like the suggestion of wearing headphones at the mall. I wear earplugs occasionally at work and in other places that are somewhat loud. It’s funny how people will stare at you for wearing earplugs like you are some kind of freak. I don’t know if anyone has done a study on it, but I have noticed that even my Apple earbuds block out maybe 5-10 dB. It’s not as good as 20-30 dB earplugs, but it definitely helps. Wearing headphones, even without music, might be a good way to cancel out some sound without having to answer questions from the rude guy with diarrhea-mouth who must know why you are wearing them.

    If you are interested in earplugs, I highly recommend those by Etymotic Research. I have a pair of blue Ety earplugs that I use for music. Unlike the cheap foam earplugs you buy at the drug store, they actually help you hear sounds better. I use them for music, and I can actually spot errors in an ensemble better with the plugs in than I can with them out. They cut the decibel level without distorting particular frequencies. They are also much more comfortable than disposable foam earplugs and other reusable earplugs that I have tried. I can keep them in my ears for hours before feeling any discomfort. You can check them out at http://www.etymotic.com or at a local music store. I am thinking about buying a pair of their headphones to use for playing along with recordings. I have tried large sound-canceling headphones, but they put too much pressure on my ears and give me a headache.

  • Bethany29
    5 years ago

    Oooh! Music headphones at the mall! That’s a great idea. I hadn’t thought of that. I am going to try that one. 🙂

    I also carry ear plugs with me everywhere I go. I have to use them at church and when I am in noisy crowded environments, like my daughter’s Karate tournaments or practices.

    I’ve been having to just try and get through my day at work, but it’s very hard on me when the noises ramp up, which seems to be often. –It is usually due to people talking really loudly when someone is hard of hearing. It is very hard on me.

  • Beatrice Powell
    5 years ago

    I am very sensitive to sound as part of my complex complicated migraines. My doctors after much studying and tossing me back and forth made a connection and found that I had a dehiscence(holes) between my skull and ear canal that actually makes the sound sensitivity worse. I have to have surgery soon to repair it. It will hopefully help but if not, it will at least help the vertigo that has gone with it. For now, I will wear my ear plugs in every loud situation (including my husband’s tv watching). I know we all feel the same when I say that it is very frustrating to be so sensitive to a child’s cry, action sounds at a movie theater, or even a horn blowing in traffic. Sometimes even the dog barking at the neighbor is too much.

  • minddoctor
    5 years ago

    Sound sensitivity always accompanies a migraine for me. I have earplugs stashed everywhere, in pockets, purses, and next to the bed. Things really started to get bad when the lot next door to our home in the country became a full time construction site. For months now I hear a chorus of power nail guns and saws, trucks and tractors, and 10-15 men shouting orders at each other from sunrise to sunset M-F. Noise canceling headphones help, but they’re pretty tough to sleep with, especially since my bedroom windows where I rest during headaches faces the power tools only 10-15 feet away and the vibrations of these tools shake the windows and doors of our home. My silent sanctuary in the country has been invaded. I feel SO much better over weekends and am really looking forward to this construction coming to a close. Here’s hoping that everyone with a migraine today can find some peace and quiet!

  • SASmith
    5 years ago

    I’m with Candy. I’m sound sensitive all of the time, so I carry ear plugs everywhere and I’m not ashamed to toss them in at a moments notice. I notice that the more sound sources there are the more likely I’m going to have a migraine so I have to prepare. Restaurants, sports events, concerts, I know that I have to take precautions if I’m going to get through it. The worst are the times when you don’t expect it. That’s why it’s always important to be prepared. Ear plugs, water (for some reason staying hydrated helps), my meds, and staying calm once the onset starts, are my toolkit. Someone is standing outside my door right now and because of their tone and constant droning in conversation, I know that I’m going to have a headache within the next 90 minutes, so I have to take action now. They call me the “b” word when I close my door or ask them to move, but I have to for my own health … don’t like it … I don’t care.

  • Candy Meacham
    5 years ago

    I am sound sensitive 24/7, especially since I’m having daily headaches right now. To help myself function I carry earplugs EVERYWHERE, and I use them daily, sometimes several times a day. I have multiple sets including a little plastic container hanging from my keychain, a set in the car, my purse, by the side of my bed, in office (where my crash couch is). I use them for the occasional movie that I manage, at music performances, at night because sometimes my husband snores, anytime the volume of life is just to high for me. I recommend it. It helps.

  • Amy
    5 years ago

    This happens to me a lot. Except I don’t realize I’m doing it most of the time. Something like this will happen and my husband will ask me if I’m okay. I’ll just look at him like he’s crazy. He’ll tell me to take my meds, and I’ll argue – I’m not getting a headache! Most times, I should have listened to him… :-/

  • The Migraine Girl moderator author
    4 years ago

    Sometimes my boyfriend is the first to notice I am getting a migraine because of my reactions to light or sound. I, like you, should probably listen to his advice when he tells me to treat the attack ASAP.

    -Janet G.

  • lilosmom
    5 years ago

    I usually realize a migraine is on the way when I can’t follow two or more people talking at once. I have five children, and I’ve gotten pretty good at keeping up with multiple conversations, but when I can’t stand them all talking at once I know a migraine is on the way. In addition, I found that a certain type of noise, like a toddler screeching or a particular note hit by the bass guitar at church will trigger a migraine immediately. When my youngest son would cry, I unfortunately had to leave the room or suffer the consequences.

  • Garangwyn
    5 years ago

    Happens to me all the time. In fact, it just happened to me this weekend at a dinner that was held in a very noisy pub and restaurant…except that I managed to escape early enough to avoid the migraine.

    Unfortunately, the position I was put in when I was working did not allow me to leave when this happened…and I worked at a noisy community college as the receptionist of the administrative offices which was a thoroughfare to the faculty workroom…even though I wasn’t a receptionist. I had to do that job on top of my regular duties. Noise on top of stress was most often the trigger for my migraines, which became chronic (read: daily) and I couldn’t leave because I was out of leave within 6 months and would have been out of FMLA had I left every time I had a migraine…which would have meant they could fire me. I fought for accommodation which only caused them to take away the few arrangements my office workers and I had worked out to help me.

    I’ve been off work on Long Term Disability for 2 years as of this month, and the migraines are better, but not enough to go back to work full time and support myself yet. But the phonophobia and photophobia have gotten better. I’m not thrown immediately into a migraine like I used to be. There was a time I couldn’t have even gone to the dinner I went to on Saturday. It’s taken two years, but there is progress.

  • BarbRN
    5 years ago

    Oh my gosh this is so perfectly describing me sometimes. I complain about noisy surroundings often and my husband says “just tune it out”. Not so easy for me. When I’m approaching a migraine, just his rattling the newspaper near me drives me nuts. The TV! Turn it down please! It’s so pronounced, the phonophobia aspect. I want him to read this.

  • Jillian
    5 years ago

    I didn’t realize I had a sound sensitivity until I turned on my television one morning after I spent the evening laying on the couch with the beginnings of a migraine. For a second I thought the tv was muted it was turned down so low. As my headache was progressing I kept turning the it down. In the morning when my migraine was over, I couldn’t even hear what had been painfully loud the night before.

  • Debbie
    5 years ago

    I feel some comfort after reading the comments because I’m not alone . My family does not understand the effects and toll it takes on my life . Even the sound of someone speaking due the tone drives me crazy , the alert on a phone when it receives a message , the music even if it is across the street etc . My daughter said once your grumpy all the time you should quit your job. I should mention I work at a call center imagine using a headset and attending irate customers which is not easy even the ones which are polite because the feedback on the phones if they are speakerphones or bluetooth hurt my sensitve hears and Wam Migrain.

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