My name is Frederico Oliveira. I am from Porto, Portugal, and I acquired hyperacusis from an MRI for abdominal pain. Before the scan, the technologist incorrectly applied protective earmuffs. During the scan, I felt a lot of ear pain, but I didn’t stop it because I thought the pain was normal and not related to sound.
Immediately afterward, I developed tinnitus that was further aggravated by sounds above 70 or 80 dB. This included typing, rattling dishes, honking horns, screaming children and construction work.
I went to around 6 ENT doctors. None took the problem seriously.
At the time, I was 26 years old. I worked as an industrial engineer in a loud factory and as a hobby I played guitar. I was a very outgoing and social person. This ear problem called hyperacusis limited my life enormously because normal noises were unbearable to hear. I fell into a dark and sad place, where I feared I could not fulfill any of my dreams or achievements in life. This condition completely changes the way a person lives. I could no longer be anywhere except a quiet house, beach or forest. I had to eat from paper plates.
Because of the lack of help from the medical community, I started an initiative to raise awareness, directed donations to the nonprofit Hyperacusis Research and did a project at my engineering school to try to develop a prototype device to help people with hyperacusis gain more control over the sound they experience.
To try to rest my ears and improve as best I could, I rented a house in a quiet beach resort. Even there, however, there were always some unexpected loud noises — fireworks, car alarms, barking dogs — that would trigger the setbacks that people with noise-induced hyperacusis often have. It was frustrating. Because of these setbacks, I wasn’t improving as much as I hoped.
I approached the healing process as I would a broken leg. You start slowly by adapting your way of walking. I did the same with noise, discovering my limitations and slowly pushing further.
After two years, I was able to handle noises much better. Noise would not give me as much pain as before, and my tinnitus was not as aggravated. I also made an effort not to let the pain affect me as much psychologically. During these two years, I found I could surf, which is a healthy sport I could do in nature, and which kept me motivated and made me feel like I still had a purpose in life. This helped me to develop a more optimistic mindset, which was to not let hyperacusis get in the way of my dreams.
My friends and family didn’t understand the problem well. I certainly had friends who disappeared, but I also had the luck to have many people in my life who believed me and gave me support.
Now I am back to an active life. I study financial analysis in Porto business school and I work as a financial analyst, which is a quiet job. I play the guitar — acoustic — and go to the gym. Many new friends don’t even notice I have hyperacusis.
Of course I always use earplugs when going to busy restaurants and parties, and when traveling. But finally I feel normal and can work toward my dreams of having an active and normal life. I thought this would be impossible given the state of my hyperacusis at the start.
I’d like my story to bring a sense of hope to the many people who developed this condition at a young age, as I did.
I also want to thank my friends and family who gave me so much strength and always believed in me, especially my mother who suffered a lot. Now she is happy to see her son having a normal life again.
Frederico (center, in plaid shirt) playing guitar and singing with friends at a party after two years of improvement from hyperacusis
WARNING: Guitar and singing ( low-volume)