Hyperacusis is a frequent auditory disorder that is characterized by abnormal loudness perception where sounds of relatively normal volume are perceived as too loud or even painfully loud. As hyperacusis patients show decreased loudness discomfort levels (LDLs) and steeper loudness growth functions, it has been hypothesized that hyperacusis might be caused by an increase in neuronal response gain in the auditory system. Moreover, since about 85% of hyperacusis patients also experience tinnitus, the conditions might be caused by a common mechanism. However, the mechanisms that give rise to hyperacusis have remained unclear. Here, we have used a computational model of the auditory system to investigate candidate mechanisms for hyperacusis. Assuming that perceived loudness is proportional to the summed activity of all auditory nerve (AN) fibers, the model was tuned to reproduce normal loudness perception. We then evaluated a variety of potential hyperacusis gain mechanisms by determining their effects on model equal-loudness contours and comparing the results to the LDLs of hyperacusis patients with normal hearing thresholds. Hyperacusis was best accounted for by an increase in non-linear gain in the central auditory system. Good fits to the average patient LDLs were obtained for a general increase in gain that affected all frequency channels to the same degree, and also for a frequency-specific gain increase in the high-frequency range. Moreover, the gain needed to be applied after subtraction of spontaneous activity of the AN, which is in contrast to current theories of tinnitus generation based on amplification of spontaneous activity. Hyperacusis and tinnitus might therefore be caused by different changes in neuronal processing in the central auditory system.
Diehl, P. U., & Schaette, R. (2015). Abnormal auditory gain in hyperacusis: Investigation with a computational model. Frontiers in Neurology, 6(JUN). https://doi.org/10.3389/fneur.2015.00157