Princess Hates Loud Noises

Dear Mamas,

Ever since our daughter was tiny, she‘s reacted to any sudden, loud noise. When she was a baby I couldn’t even vacuum without her getting all worked up. Barking dogs could send her into wails of terror. Now, at 2, she’s gotten a bit better, but still loses it when a loud lawnmower or construction noise disturb the peace.

We’ve always handled it by removing her from the situation when possible, or reassuring her that it’s okay, it’s just a … fill in the blank. Is this the right approach, or am I missing something? Could something be wrong with her hearing? Is there something more we should be doing? Our older child (who’s 4) never had this problem and we’re starting to worry.

Thanks for your help,

Pam

Dear Pam,

This problem is so common that there’s actually a name for it! It’s called phonophobia –  fear of loud noises – and is most common in small children; even very young infants.

Loud noises, like any surprising stimuli, may trigger reactions. For most kids these fears are mild and transient. However some children, like adults, are more sensitive and react more strongly.

Sometimes, phonophobia is the result of a related condition, called hyperacusis, which is a heightened sensitivity to certain tones and sound ranges. Children with hyperacusis actually hear specific sounds differently. Noises that seem normal to others may cause pain and discomfort in these kids.

If your little one’s sensitivity seems to be improving, a watch and wait approach is fine, but if you’re concerned you may want to schedule a full hearing assessment with an audiologist. That way you’ll have a better idea if the issue is behavioral, physical, or a bit of both.

For some children, a simple explanation is enough to reassure them, but for those who are very effected by their phonophobia (or hyperacusis), a combination of approaches is available to help. These include auditory desensitization and self-management techniques, even for preschoolers!

The idea is to make your daughter more comfortable around sudden noises and prevent the development of long-term fears. Addressing the problem may also make you more relaxed and less concerned about when the next barking dog or lawnmower is going to send her into a tailspin.

Hope that helps!

~ Dr. Mama

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Rachel Zahn, MD is a pediatrician turned health writer who had three kids during medical school and pediatric training—crazy, huh?


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