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Stressed-Out Women May Be More Sensitive to Sounds

SUNDAY, Feb. 3 (HealthDay News) -- Emotionally exhausted women are much more sensitive to sounds when they are stressed, according to a new study.

For some of these women, even a normal conversation can be painful, Swedish researchers found. Doctors may need to consider patients' stress and exhaustion levels when treating hearing problems, the study suggests.

"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," Dan Hasson, an associate professor in the department of physiology and pharmacology at the Karolinska Institute, explained in an institute news release. "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."

In conducting the study, the researchers exposed 208 women and 140 men ranging in age from 23 to 71 who had low, medium or high levels of emotional exhaustion to five minutes of physical, mental and social stress.

Physical stress was having participants put the hands in ice. They also underwent a mental stress test and were observed in a socially stressful situation.

Although none of the groups had different sensitivity to sound before they were exposed to stress, the study revealed the women with a high level of emotional exhaustion were much more sensitive to sounds after they were exposed to stress than other women who were not exhausted. Some of these women even found normal conversations too loud.

In contrast, the participants with low levels of exhaustion were actually less sensitive to sound after they were exposed to stress. The researchers pointed out that this is a normal reaction to stress.

"Serious forms of sound hypersensitivity can force people to isolate themselves and avoid potentially distressing situations and environments," added Hasson, also affiliated with Stockholm University's Stress Research Institute. "Our study indicates that exhaustion level and stress are additional factors that might have to be taken into account when diagnosing and treating hearing problems."

Although a similar trend was identified among the men, the differences were not statistically significant, the study's authors noted.

The study was published online recently in PLoS ONE.

More information

Visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to learn about managing stress.

-- Mary Elizabeth Dallas

SOURCE: Karolinska Institute, news release, Jan. 15, 2013

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