Fibromyalgia and sound sensitivity. Why do sounds become difficult to deal with? Is brain inhibition responsible?

Before being diagnosed with fibromyalgia noise rarely bothered me. Working in a school you learn to ignore all the different sounds. Since my fibromyalgia diagnosis, sounds begin to bother me more and more. People who live with fibromyalgia are hypersensitive to muscle, joint and widespread pain, but research is revealing hypersensitivity to sound as well.


For myself I find noise can create many emotions to arise. These may include:

1. Feeling annoyed

2. Feeling anxious

3. Feeling panic


Other symptoms I experience:

1. Pounding heart

2. Tightness in chest as anxiety increases

3. Headaches may appear

4. Increased pain levels

5. Sounds feel like they echo within my ears

7. Loss of concentration


There are a few theories to why people with fibromyalgia develop sound sensitivities. In one study, researchers had people with fibromyalgia listen to certain sounds through earphones and they were asked to rate the sounds based on how mild or severe they sounded. The study also had a group of participants without fibromyalgia do the same. Three different stimulus intensities were used. The participants with fibromyalgia required less sound pressure to report similar loudness ratings then people without fibromyalgia. The conclusion of the study showed people with fibromyalgia are more sensitive to sound and reported lower volume sounds to be more intense.


Most times we are often told the sensitives are just “in our head”. However studies such as the one described above are proving this to be wrong. Studies are beginning to reveal that it is most likely due to nervous system problems. Our nervous system makes people with fibromyalgia perceive sound more severity then those without fibromyalgia. More research is still needed.


A second theory has to do with brain inhibition. I had never heard this term before. Inhibition is when our brain filters out things that are unimportant. Easiest way to understand it is imagine our brain has a noise cancellation function – almost like a set of headphones with noise cancellation. For example you may be working in your office and the florescent lights may be making a loud buzzing noise. Usually our brain inhibition eventually stops us from hearing the buzzing noise. However, experts explain that people with fibromyalgia will lack inhibition – which means we have a difficult time tuning out sounds. Our senses will bombard our brain with so much information and our brain can’t handle it! Our bodies react from over stimulus. We may be unable to concentrate and we forget what we are doing. Anxiety or panic attacks can even form – pounding heart, sweating,dizziness,etc. This creates stress to form within our bodies which make pain levels of fatigue get worse!


I am still learning to deal with the sound sensitivities. I am still working at identifying which sounds trigger me. I can identify most of my triggers, but the sounds still irritate me and cause my anxiety to rise. I read one strategy is to work on lowering the symptoms of anxiety and panic before a full blown anxiety/panic attack is set off. If you need guidance in how to lower anxiety, there are many excellent Youtube videos on anxiety management. If in doubt, I would recommend speaking to your doctor or a psychologist who may be able to guide you further!


There are a lot of situations I may avoid to prevent having to deal with some of the sound sensitivities or alter my routine when possible. I often go to the store earlier in the day to beat the loudness or go out for dinner slightly early to avoid the overwhelming restaurant hustle. When I attend the pool to swim, I often go when the pool has a quieter atmosphere. They set aside certain hours dedicated for those who live with sensory issues. Sound sensitivity can be manageable if using the right strategies. I believe there may be cognitive behavioral therapy strategies out there to help one cope with living with sound sensitivities. I am still researching how to manage my own noise sensitivity!

People with fibromyalgia may also be sensitive to light, smell, heat or even to tactile. To prevent my blog post from becoming to long and overwhelming I broke it down. I will write another blog on other sensitivities later on!