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tinyfaery's avatar

Can you explain why my body reacts strangely to certain sounds?

Asked by tinyfaery (44174points) September 19th, 2009

I have very strange reactions to certain sounds, and not just nails on a chalkboard. I can’t take the sound of silverware scraping against metal pans or nice plates. The sound of bare feet dragging on certain types of concrete is horrible. And I cannot tolerate most soprano voices or music with high pitches.

My question is about my reactions to these noises. At certain levels I just have to cover my ears or leave the room because my body goes into fight/flight mode. I cringe and hunker myself into a ball. It’s not really pain in my ears or head, but a feeling of anxiety, like I want to crawl into my body and hide. It’s like a buzzing feeling though out my body that is so uncomfortable that I can’t contain myself.

The only thing I can liken it to so that you might get what I am saying is this: when cats hear noises that they do not like their ears twitch, they crouch down and the skin on their bodies quiver until they can’t stand it and run away.

Why does this happen? More specifically, what in my brain or body makes these feelings occur? Why do sounds cause my body to react this way? Can I change it?

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23 Answers

dpworkin's avatar

It sounds like you have a very low threshold for auditory stimulation. The first thing i would do is schedule an examination with an audiologist, to see if this is so (there is, in fact, an audiologist on Fluther – someone may remember the user name.)

Then, if I am right, perhaps there is a way to raise your thrshold so that you are no longer disturbed by the sounds.

Jeruba's avatar

Do you mean hearkat?

dpworkin's avatar

@Jeruba Maybe that is the person, I’m sorry I don’t recall the user name. Perhaps she will notice this question.

evegrimm's avatar

I have similar “issues”, but I’ve never really considered it a problem.

I just avoid opera and most high-pitched noises. (I can listen to high-pitched musical instruments (but prefer lower-pitched ones), but other high-pitched things are a definite no-no…the sound of styrofoam being cut comes to mind.)

Sarcasm's avatar

I don’t have any explanations. That does happen to me from time to time, and same as you, silverware on plates does it for me a lot.
but Hearkat is the one you’d be looking for. I never realized the fact that her username has the word “hear” in it until now though.

AstroChuck's avatar

@evegrimm- I’m the same way with styrofoam. It’s not just the sound either. Just the feel of the stuff bothers me. In fact I can’t even stand a styrofoam cup touching my lips.

EmpressPixie's avatar

I have this issue as well—I cannot listen to certain things (chewing noises) without going insane. It’s total fight-flight-or-break-into-sobs mode. (The crying comes from being unable to leave and unable to physically attack the person, it’s pure helplessness.) I eventually came across the term sensory defensiveness.

I don’t know if the article will be useful, it really and truly struck a chord when I read it. And, as always, if this really bothers you it is probably best to speak to a mental health professional about it.

evelyns_pet_zebra's avatar

wraps @AstroChuck in Styrofoam.

Heavy bass sounds have a weird effect on me, and sometimes, a certain sequence of notes gives me chills.

evegrimm's avatar

@evelyns_pet_zebra, have you ever seen Koyaanisqatsi? The music in that film (by Philip Glass) makes me so nervous/on edge/paranoid/terrified that it took me a couple hours to calm down afterwards.

Philip Glass, for whatever reason, has the “skill” to do this—several of his pieces have this effect on me.

evelyns_pet_zebra's avatar

@evegrimm seen it? I’ve never even heard of it.

evegrimm's avatar

@evelyns_pet_zebra, LOL. Apparently it made a big wave when it was released in ‘82, and a lot of “hipster” people like to talk about it. (Title means “Life out of balance”; IMDb has a great summary posted.) My photo teacher was faux-hipster (so a wannabe) and showed it to us for the “beautiful cinematography”.

Pretentious bastard.

dpworkin's avatar

It was a shit movie, and Phillip Glass’ music has the quality of a strobe light flashing before an epileptic: it drives you nuts.

evegrimm's avatar

@pdworkin, you’re not wrong. :D

hearkat's avatar

Hello! I wish I had an answer for you as to why these reactions occur, but alas, I do not. And as it is after 1 a.m. on a busy weekend, I won’t be able to research it any time soon.

Loud high-pitched sounds do activate a physical reflex in our ears that serve as a defense to protect the ear from sudden noise damage (which our modern machinery, explosives and amplified music completely overload and render minimally effective, if at all). However, many of the noises that set people off are not exceptionally loud. We’ll use @AstroChuck‘s example of styrofoam… that is not a loud sound. What’s more is he has a tactile reaction to styrofoam, like I have to cotton balls (just writing about it makes me cringe). So I suspect that the mechanism causing those reactions is not part of the auditory system, but comes from somewhere else (I can’t imagine what or why, though). I’ll ruminate, research, and get back to this at another time… but it may be more than a week from now.

Zuma's avatar

It sounds as though you may have a form of hyperacusis. This can be due to an inner ear injury where certain frequencies are stuck on high. Or, given what @hearkat says, it might be an intolerance for certain types of repetitive sounds that is more of an attentional disorder.

I once remember trying out Paxil for a sleep disorder and I became hyper-sensitive to things like dripping faucets, crying babies, clattering silverware, etc. I almost lost it when I was in a record store and they started playing Snoop Doggy Dog. It was like being in a room with 20 caffeine-crazed chihuahuas, and every couple of hours one of them would leave. So, if such a state could be chemically induced in a person, it stands to reason, it could be corrected in a similar way.

hearkat's avatar

@Zuma: Hyperacusis is a possibility in @tinyfaery‘s case… but not when it’s just styrofoam, nails on chalkboard or dental drills. However, there really is no way for us to measure it, and the treatment is usually desensitization through progressive exposure.

To help make the world more tolerable, consider earplugs to wear when you might be exposed to these sounds are an option. I’d suggest a 9dB or 15dB musician’s plug that basically turn down the volume of the world around you by a few ‘notches’... I wear them in bars and to concerts and bring them with me nearly everywhere.

tinyfaery's avatar

Thanks all.

I think there might be 2 possibilitie. I think empress might be on to something. I do have other sensitivities like intolerance to food texture, but sound is by far the worst. Also, I was hit in the head a lot as a child, so much that I would sometimes lose hearing. Damage is a distinct possibility.

azhaiaziam's avatar

It maybe psychological…

mattbrowne's avatar

Could be a mix of genetic memory and unpleasant sound associations from your past.

Inofaith's avatar

I used to have something similar (my partents tell me).
I was born kindof over sensitive (to everything).
People thought I was just shy, because I didn’t like to be touched, I didn’t like the swimming pool (veryyyy noisy place). etc.

But my mom told me It nummed down a bit.

But to this day (i’m 23 now) I still have some “preferences” that differe from others.

- Some hard sounds I tend to stay away from more then others (also in concern to preserving my hearing, like if someone is working with a chainsaw, i want earpads, some ppl don’t care)
– Most people can lie on their back facing the sky on a summery day on the beach. I experience the sun as too bright while my eyes are closed… it just passes through.
– intimaciy, well depends. I’m not someone who gives just about every stranger shoulder taps. (but that’s a different story when there’s girlfriends or people i trust involved. and i hug my friends often)

hope this is of some relevance. it’s because my mom told me, it explains a bit why my eyes and ears are a bit more sensitive.

DominicX's avatar

Does this apply to certain feelings that you can’t stand?

I mean, I hate fork on a plate, but for me, it’s less the sound as it’s the feeling of doing it. It’s that awful scraping feeling that I can’t stand. I can feel it vibrating in my arm when I scrape a fork against a plate. The sound is awful, yes, but the feeling is part of it too. It’s like biting down on cotton. (I can’t even say that one without the right half of my body tingling. I can’t believe I used to suck on my shirt when I was little intense shudder).

My mom told me how my grandmother hated the feeling of this denim binder she had. She would rub her hand against it and shudder and insist that she would never touch it again.

I wonder why stuff like that happens. It doesn’t seem to have any purpose.

Inofaith's avatar

Hmm, there seem to be a lot of texturese (be it sound, touch) we can’t stand.. as well as smell.

Have you ever gotten a piece of tin foil in your mouth and bit it? That’s awfull too. But it seems to have a purpose. Its not healthy to have hard or any iron objects in your mouth (and swallow them).
Beach sand in your mouth (at sea) can be uncomfortable but it’s ok. you can rinse it out and its not completely harmfull if you swallow (small amounts) of it. so that seems to have purpose as well.

OutOfTheBlue's avatar

I have this same problem, but i think it has a lot to due with certain frequency’s and how they resonate and how we as individuals respond to different Freq’s. I have noticed that even if i cover my ears i still get the feeling going through my body which may be the frequency’s resonating. I tend to get this way over high pitched noises, like stated above with silverware on a glass or even worse a ceramic plate, i cringe at the site of a chalk board, i am always waiting for someone to come along and run there nails down it.

I dunno, i could be way off base, but just know i feel your pain :)

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