Sensitivity to Sound

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last review date: December 2019

Sensitivity to sound is a common migraine symptom. Sounds may make the head pain of migraine worse, and negatively impact quality of life.

What is sensitivity to sound?

Hyperacusis is the medical term for sensitivity to sounds. The condition makes a person highly sensitive to sounds, meaning sounds cause discomfort or even pain.1 Hyperacusis can be a clinical disorder separate from the sound sensitivity of migraine, but the symptoms are similar.

Why does sensitivity to sound happen with migraine?

Doctors do not know why a person becomes sensitive to sound during a migraine attack. It may be because migraine causes changes in how the brain processes light, sound, and smells. People with migraine may have lower thresholds for how stimuli affect them. Or, they process and combine stimuli differently.2

Imaging studies have shown unusual responses to stimuli throughout the brains of people living with migraine.2 One study of people with migraine with aura found more connections between the areas of the brain where light and sound stimuli are processed.3 This extra connectedness may help explain the increased sensitivity to sound, light and smells in people with migraine.

More research needs to be done to better understand what causes sound sensitivities in migraine.

How is sensitivity to sound treated?

There is no treatment for the sound sensitivity of migraine attacks. Usually, treating the migraine also treats any symptoms. Many people find a quiet room away from noise during a migraine. Some find that wearing earplugs or noise-canceling headphones can help reduce any pain or discomfort.

Tracking your migraine symptoms

Keeping a record of your migraine symptoms may help you figure out patterns and triggers to your attacks. It may be helpful to record such things as:

  • When and where your pain or symptoms start
  • Whether the pain spreads to your entire head or neck
  • How well and how quickly acute treatment helps reduce the pain or other symptoms
  • How long your pain or symptoms last
  • Whether you experience other symptoms such as vision changes, nausea, or light sensitivity

Community experiences of sensitivity to sound and migraine advocates write about their experiences with migraine, including sensitivity to sound. Often, our advocates with migraine have shared their overall sensitivity not just to sound, but to light and smells as well. Sensitivity to sound can be a warning sign while others may have phonophobia all the time. For those who feel like they need to avoid loud noises because of migraine, it may seem like living in a quiet place is the constant goal to avoid this migraine trigger.

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