December 13, 2020
Everyone reacts differently to sound, but to some extent, the fear of loud noise is built into most humans. When an alarm goes off, the loud noise startles people and makes them feel a little disoriented or panic-stricken. This is a normal response, but usually only lasts for a couple of seconds before the brain processes the alert and the person can take proper action. But for people with acousticophobia, the individual does not respond in the same way and they simply cannot function in noisy environments.
What is acousticophobia?
Acousticophobia, also known as ligyrophobia or phonophobia, refers to an intense aversion to or fear of loud or unexpected noise. People with acousticophobia may end up in a prolonged shock or panic when exposed to certain sounds. Like many other phobias, acousticophobia is fairly common. It can affect people of all ages and is often rooted in a traumatic event associated with noise. The traumatic information is stored in the brain and accessed when a similar event occurs in the future. And to protect the individual, the brain recalls the stored information and uses the same conditioned response. Acousticophobia and phobophobia are often also associated with conditions that make a person more sensitive to noise like adrenal insufficiency, misophonia, and hyeracusis. Autism is another factor that can contribute to acousticophobia.
What are the symptoms of acousticophobia?
Depending on the severity of the reaction, different symptoms can surface based on the intensity of the body’s reaction to fear. People suffering from acousticophobia most commonly experience sweating, irregular heartbeat, nausea, severe mood swings, or fainting. They also might be unable to function normally in noisy environments. Some even suffer from a full-blown panic attack under such circumstances. It can be extremely embarrassing to the individuals or the guardians over their care.
This condition can be extremely limiting. People with severe acousticophobia tend to practice avoidance behavior and do what they can to stay away from noisy conditions or environments. This often means they miss out on celebrations, sporting events, and other large gatherings. Their phobic tendencies can also take over their lives, impacting their ability to drive on a noisy highway, eat in a crowded restaurant, or even visit the dental office.
Is there a treatment for acousticophobia?
Anyone who has tried to conquer an irrational fear knows just how difficult it can be and here is no single, proven treatment. It is best to seek professional help if the fear of loud noise causes an extreme physical reaction or disruptive emotional distress. And fortunately, several strategies have proven helpful in overcoming certain phobias for good.
One strategy is exposure therapy which works by exposing the individual to small doses of the offending stimuli so they can build up a tolerance. Another option is cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) which works by educating the individual through exposure and response prevention so they are informed about their phobia in a way that helps them change their perspective. There are also prescription medications individuals can use to ease stress and reduce anxiety in combination with behavioral and cognitive therapies.
Helping patients with acousticophobia
A goal of most dental professionals is to alleviate anxiety so patients can be properly cared for in the short term, but also positively motivated to maintain future dental visits. Patients with acousticophobia can be irritable and uncooperative in the dental chair and can have a greater pain response. This can be problematic for the patient as well as for the dental professionals. Fortunately, empathy and understanding go a long way, as does help from doctors and therapists, along with a few effective, in-office strategies.
Dentists should meet with patients before the first procedure to foster communication and openly discuss any fears or concerns. They can also use control and distraction to help patients with any type of anxiety. For example, when the dentist says “let me know when you are ready,” the patient can be in charge of when work begins. It is also helpful if the dentist encourages patients to use simple but clear hand signals for “start” and “stop” to express when they need a break. And offering distractions in the form of calming music and noise-canceling headphones can be soothing, especially for patients with acousticophobia.