ADHD Noise Sensitivity. What Causes Noise Sensitivity?

Besides the common signs and symptoms of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity, many people with ADHD also experience hypersensitivity. Many stimuli like noise, touch, movement, odors, and light can be more challenging than usual, further aggravating this condition. Why is ADHD associated with noise sensitivity and other types of sensitivity? Read on, as this article covers possible causes and solutions to better cope with these sensitivities. 

What causes hypersensitivity?

In some cases, individuals with ADHD  are hypersensitive. They feel and react stronger to noise or other sensitivities. In other cases, there is hyposensitivity, as they have lower reactions to these stimuli. According to research, hypo or hypersensitivity correlates with an increased ADHD score, and more women (43%) are affected than men (23%) with ADHD. 

In the same way, ADHD is linked with emotional sensitivity, this condition is also associated with physical hypersensitivity. Minor noises from air conditioners, a ticking clock, dripping taps, clicking pens, or bark from the neighbor’s dog can trigger an overwhelming response. The brain seems to be unable to filter and properly process this information. Every noise and sensation is felt more intensely, leading to irritability, mood swings, hyperactivity, and other signs of ADHD. This noise hypersensitivity is medically known as misophonia. 

A person who experiences misophonia usually has excellent hearing. The sensitivity is not related to the volume or type of the sound, but rather an emotional and physical reaction to certain sounds. 

The exact cause of this hypersensitivity is not known, and the research is ongoing. It is believed that these stimuli- whether noise, sound, odors, or other factors activate the sympathetic nervous system, responsible for “fight or flight reaction.” When tested, some children with ADHD showed higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol. 

Stress response heightens the senses and stimulates the nervous system to increase the ability to “fight or flight” or defend ourselves against danger. As a result, nerve and sense hypersensitivity develops. 

These episodes of hypersensitivity can come and go or persist for a long time and are often associated with increased levels of nervousness and anxiety. They can be mild, or very intense and may change from one moment to another. 

A hyperactive nervous system leads to hyperstimulation. As stimulation rises, so does the nervous system become more sensitive and reactive. 

The bottom line is that a major underlying cause of hypersensitivity is elevated stress and anxiety. 

Brain expert Dr.Daniel Amen suggests there is a special subtype of ADHD which is characterized by higher sensitivity to noise and other stimuli, along with behavior changes, anxiety, and speaking fast. Based on brain scans, he found that there is hyperactivity across the cerebral cortex and other areas of the brain. Dr.Amen suggests that stimulants alone can make the symptoms worse, and anticonvulsants, guanfacine, and clonidine could help calm this overactivity. Supplements like GABA, 5 HTP, and L-tyrosine could also be beneficial. 

How to deal with noise sensitivity -A holistic approach  

  • Since stress is a major trigger of hypersensitivity, a holistic, mind-body  approach would work best to manage stress levels. The treatment plan should focus on reducing the stress as much as possible to reduce nervous system reactivity. Deep breathing can quickly switch from fight or flight reaction to a calm relaxed state. Avoiding stimulants like coffee or coke can also help.  A doctor may evaluate if the  dose of ADHD stimulant meds could be adjusted, or switch to a non-stimulant drug. Getting a good night’s sleep is important to calm an hyperactive nervous system. Wearing blue light blocking glasses has been shown in some research studies to promote a better, restful sleep and improved mood as well. 
  •  A regular fitness routine can help de-stress and calm the body and mind. Any form of exercise can help. However, short intense workouts HIIT (high intensity interval training) style help increase more feel good chemicals in the brain including dopamine, norepinephrine, serotonin, and endorphins. Yoga, mindfulness meditation are also effective to combat stress. The diet should focus on  nutrient rich wholesome foods, plenty of fresh vegetables and fruits, healthy oils,lean meats. Avoid processed foods, high sugar foods and unhealthy fats. 
  • Having fun is also a great way to relieve stress. Fun filled activities like playing games or watching a comedy should also be on the schedule. 
  • Recent research looking at effective ways to manage sound hypersensitivity found that cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) can effectively improve this condition. A special hypnotherapy protocol called Sequent Repatterning was also found beneficial . You can  join the Misophonia Association and receive educational videos as a thank you gift and learn about other modalities used to treat misphonia. Progressive muscle relaxation, biofeedback and special techniques  can be used for children with noise hypersensitivity. 
  • What is not recommended is exposure therapy, or exposing yourself to the trigger until you no longer respond to it. This exposure is actually detrimental,  as it further increases the hypersensitivity to the noise, according to the Misphonia Institute

There will be cases when noises occur but can be reduced or avoided. For example, turning the sound down on the laptop or TV, or wearing earplugs when going to a shopping mall or crowded places. Young children can learn how to cover their ears when they hear a sound, and adults can also place a hand on the child’s head as well. Keeping a journal can help identify the trigger sounds and other stimuli that can feel overwhelming.