My Son Has Sensitive Ears What to Do

Updated on November 20, 2008
A.K. asks from Fredericksburg, VA
15 answers

My son who is now 4 has very sensitive hearing. It bothers him to go to movies, fireworks, the vaccum running, dogs barking, the radio in the car, etc.. Anything that makes an exceptional amount of noise. I have tried to use ear plugs, but he does not like the feel of them. I do not understand why he is so sensitive. We have had his hearing checked and they have found nothing. I do not know what to do to make his everyday life more managable.q

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answers from Washington DC on

You may want to try an Ear, Nose and throat doctor(otolaryngologist). My son goes to one at Georgetown Hospital that is excellent by the name of Dr. Harley. Sometime the auditory specialist can not see what Md doctors can see. It may be a inner ear in balance that causes the sensitivity.

If you have any more questions let me know.


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answers from Houston on

Not to alarm you but my nephew was very sensitive too loud noise. WE couldn't even sing Happy Birthday to him without about 10 people aroudn for his 2nd birthday. I found out from my sister that he has a tup of autism. He is now 9 and in the 4th grade. He is doing good but when you say sensitive hearing it just brought me back to thinking of my nephew. Good Luck!



answers from Richmond on

I totally dealt with this when my oldest had tubes put in her ears and she was able to hear normally again. Everything was so loud. I ended up having to put cotton balls in her ears when we went to things that were loud. That helped alot



answers from Washington DC on


Have you had your son assessed for sensory processing disorder or Autism? The 2 conditions are very similar. My son is high functioning Autistic and he doesn't like the vaccuum or the flush in public bathroom's , he covers his ears or leaves the room.

Good luck

K. H



answers from Washington DC on

He sounds a lot like my daughter. She is nearly 3, and has sensory processing disorder, which affects how her brain processes sensory information. In some cases sensory processing disorder causes someone to be oversensitive to something (ex. sound, or light or movement), so they try to avoid it. In other cases they can be undersensitive to sensory stimulus, so they seek it (if you've ever seen a kid on a playground swing so high he almost flies off the swing set, or crash into other kids and not even realize he's doing it, that's probably a kid who is undersensitive.) In my daughter's case she has a combination of some under and some over sensitivities.

There are many techniques that can be used to help your son process sensory input so that he's no longer (or at least less) sensitive to stimulation, especially sound. I strongly suggest you contact an Occupational Therapist qualified in sensory processing issues (your pediatrician might be able to provide some names, or you can also check with your health insurance, or simply the phone book, then verify they have experience with sensory issues before the evaluation -- your insurance should cover the evaluation and some therapy). They will be able to tell you if this is something that needs to be addressed or not. If he does need some help, the earlier you begin these therapies the better since the older the brain gets, the less it is able to adapt to change/therapy.

For more info there are 2 really informative books -- The Out of Sync Child by Carol Stock Kranowitz and Lucy Jane Miller) and Sensational Kids (by Lucy Jane Miller) which can explain really well why some kids have sensory issues, and also what can be done about it. But I really recommend you get an OT evaluation, and since there is often a wait-list, I suggest you start looking/calling asap.

Good luck. L.



answers from Richmond on

I found out my son had sensitive ears on the 4th of July when he was 3. Obviously, the fireworks scared him. I asked him if it was too loud and he just nodded. I reassured him it was nothing to be scared of and he could cover his ears and watch the pretty lights in the sky. He did and enjoyed the rest of the show. After that, I noticed he would leave the room anytime I vacuumed or started doing dishes (the dishes clanking together bothered him). The movie theater was too much for him as well. The doctor said his hearing was fine and nothing was wrong. We got him some earmuffs (sometimes put some extra cotton in them) and eventually he got used to the sounds. It didn't take him long to get to the point where he stopped using them on his own. We got him the kind that wrap around the back of his head, which he thought was very grown up, and he loved them. They did the job for the time he needed them and he never went to see an occupational therapist. He has outgrown this now and has no problems with hearing sensitivity, except maybe selective hearing (he's almost 13). Anyway, the earmuffs did the job for us, maybe it'll work for your son too. Good luck.



answers from Richmond on

My daughter has always had the same issue. She is 7 and still has sensitivity to loud noises - including the toilet flushing (in commercial bathrooms) and the new hand dryers (in commercial bathrooms). She now can go to movies - I always take ear plugs, but she doesn't use them much anymore. I believe they have a higher sensitivity and hearing range than when they get older. If your pediatrician says that everything is okay, he may just outgrow in time. Don't push him into situations that aren't comfortable for his hearing range! Good luck!



answers from Norfolk on

Hi A.,
I would talk to your doctor about it. It sounds to me like he has some sensory issues. Occupational Therapists could be of assistance in this case. My son used to have a lot of problems with noise also. He has been going to Occupational Therapy for other things but he doesn't seem to have a problem with it as much now. The therapist had told me about some noise therapy they could do which just consisted of them listening to certain tones and stuff to get his senses more used to them so that they wouldn't be as sensitive to the various tones. He has a mild form of sensory integration disorder, and the therapy helped him with that. It is hard to describe, but in my sons case, nothing major. He is a normal little boy that just needed some help to get his sensory issues under control. I hope this helped. I am not an occupational therapist so I am sorry if I confused you with this.

M. W.



answers from Danville on

My son has really sensitive hearing too, he is now 8 yrs old, but has always been really sensitive to the things you are mentioning. I think there is not really much you can do, just reassure him that these things will not hurt him, the fireworks were the worst for us, and actually he still does not like them b/c of the loud noise. Just hang in there I think it is something that they will adjust to he has gotten better, but somethings like I said really do bother him. Good luck and I hope things get better for him!



answers from Washington DC on

Have you tried the large headphones that fit completely over the ears? How about earmuffs? My nephew (5) has VERY sensitive hearing. It seems to bother him most when he's not the one in control of the noise. He also hates loud radios, dogs, thunder.




answers from Washington DC on

I would not worry about it too much, if he seems to be fine in other areas. All three of my sons have hated vacuums, public toilet flushes, fireworks, firetrucks, etc. at young ages. I think a majority of little kids do at some point. Think about it -- those things are really loud! I never even attempted to take my boys to the movies until about 5 or so because it just intuitively seemed to me that that environment would be too loud and overwhelming for a very small child. I think the problem will resolve itself. Also, people are individuals -- maybe he's just going to be a quiet kind of guy. Not every personality quirk is a developmental issue.



answers from Dover on

My daughter is similar. I have always had sensitive ears, I cannot use headphones, even at a low volume, as it ends up hurting my ears. My oldest daughter (now 6) is a lot like that as well. It is interesting to see her in situations, when there is a loud noise, she has her ears covered, while my 3 year old doesnt! Everytime we go to a public restroom and a toilet flushes while we are in there, she plugs her ears. I don't know why? I guess I have just accepted that people can have different sensitivities in their ears, just as everyone has that one certain sound that just makes them cringe. Let him cover his ears, or send him out of the room when it is time to vaccuum so he doesn't have to hear it so loudly. Just try to be understanding, sorry I am not that helpful.



answers from Washington DC on

Hi A.,

The only things that made my son cry was loud noises and being away from me. My suggestion is to find another room for him to be in when you are using the vaccuum, work on the dogs' barking, keep the volume of the radio low, don't take him to fireworks. He's sensitive to sound. Is he sensitive to other stimuli (emotions, strong light, textures of fabric)? It might help to prepare him if you know there will be loud sounds. We would say "LOUD" if we knew a loud sound was coming like the vaccuum, a saw, or the dog barking (like if someone was coming to the door). The preparation seemed to make a big difference At 11, my son is still a sensitive guy to sound, emotions and sunlight, but by the age of 6 or so, he began to handle it better.

Good luck,



answers from Washington DC on

please do some internet research on SENSORY ISSUES- hearing is a common thing. We call our daughter radar o reilly (from M*A*S*H*) because she hears EVERYTHING louder than we do.

Some people have touch issues, movement issues and/or hearing issues. (Our daughter had hearing sensory issues.) An occupational therapist can help with that if this is what he has.. It sounds likely and can be helped! (read through and then focus on the Auditory-does it sound like him?)

Signs, Symptoms and Background Information on Sensory Integration

Information on healthy drug free programs to
improve sensory processing & integration

Sensory Integration Dysfunction (SID) is a neurological disorder pioneered 40 years ago by A. Jean Ayres, Ph.D., OTR. Dr. Ayres developed the sensory integration theory to explain the relationship between behavior and brain functioning. As described in Williams & Shellenberger's work entitled, How Does Your Engine Run? A Leader's Guide to The Alert Program for Self-Regulation, "Countless bits of sensory information enter our brain at every moment, not only from our eyes and ears, but also from every place in our bodies”. The brain must organize and integrate all of these sensations if a person is to move and learn normally.

It is commonly held that we have five senses: touch - taste - smell - hearing - vision. These basic senses or far senses" respond to external stimuli from the environment. The truth is, we have many more senses than that. Some hold that we can divide the senses into internal and external senses: that the “sense of well-being” is a sense too, but an internal one. So too “homeostasis” or the sense of having returned to even keel, essential for the regulation of temperature, heart rate, and breathing.

Our mind and body are superbly interwoven to meet the demands of today's world. The feelings, thoughts and actions we experience occur through the complex actions of our brain. How we process environmental and internal information has a major impact on our feelings, thoughts and actions.

The slightest change in our brain processes can influence how we manage daily living skills, academic progress and social interaction. Sensory integration dysfunction is one example of what can go wrong in the processes of the brain. This article will explain sensory integration dysfunction to the point of understanding the nature of this unseen (and often misdiagnosed) disability, as well as its psychological, emotional, learning and social effects on the individual.

Types of SI Problems

Problems of sensory integration were first thought to fall into three categories. The person either was thought to be
@processing with interference / “white noise"

This being the case, an accurate investigation had to be made to find out which applied to the client, because treatment strategies would differ.
Signs of SI problems

The following is a description of some of the commonly seen behaviors in children who exhibit sensory integrative difficulties.

* An acute awareness of background noises
* Fascination with lights, fans, water
* Hand flapping/repetitive movements
* Spinning items, taking things apart
* Walking on tip-toe
* Little awareness of pain or temperature
* Coordination problems
* Unusually high or low activity level
* Difficulty with transitions (doesn't "go with the flow")
* Self-Injury or aggression
* Extremes of activity level (either hyperactive or under active).
* Fearful in space (on the swings, seesaw or heights).
* Striking out at someone who accidentally brushes by them.
* Avoidance of physical contact with people and with certain "textures," such as sand, paste and finger paints.
* The child may react strongly to stimuli on face, hands and feet.
* A child may have a very short attention span and become easily distracted.
* A strong dislike of certain grooming activities, such as brushing the teeth, washing the face, having the hair brushed or cut.
* An unusual sensitivity to sounds and smells.
* A child may refuse to wear certain clothes or insist on wearing long sleeves/pants so that the skin is not exposed.
* Frequently adjusts clothing, pushing up sleeves and/or pant legs.

Table 1. Symptoms of Sensory Integration Dysfunction. (Reproduced with permission from the Apraxia-Kids Web page)



* Responds negatively to unexpected or loud noises
* Holds hands over ears
* Cannot walk with background noise
* Seems oblivious within an active environment


* Prefers to be in the dark
* Hesitates going up and down steps
* Avoids bright lights
* Stares intensely at people or objects
* Avoids eye contact


* Avoids certain tastes/smells that are typically part of children's diets
* Routinely smells nonfood objects
* Seeks out certain tastes or smells
* Does not seem to smell strong odors

Body Position

* Continually seeks out all kinds of movement activities
* Hangs on other people, furniture, objects, even in familiar situations
* Seems to have weak muscles, tires easily, has poor endurance
* Walks on toes

Movement Becomes anxious or distressed when feet leave the ground

Avoids climbing or jumping

Avoids playground equipment

Seeks all kinds of movement and this interferes with daily life

Takes excessive risks while playing, has no safety awareness
Touch Avoids getting messy in glue, sand, finger paint, tape

Is sensitive to certain fabrics (clothing, bedding)

Touches people and objects at an irritating level

Avoids going barefoot, especially in grass or sand

Has decreased awareness of pain or temperature
Attention, Behavior

And Social
Jumps from one activity to another frequently and it interferes with play

Has difficulty paying attention

Is overly affectionate with others

Seems anxious

Is accident prone

Has difficulty making friends, does not express emotions



answers from Washington DC on

While many of us have some kind of sensory issue, he may have sensory issues and processes sounds differently. Not a big deal, but there are a lot of strategies to help him deal with this sensitivity. There is a great book, "Raising a Sensory Smart Child" which provides an overview and strategies for dealing with things. You might also talk to an occupational therapist who works with sensory issues for advice. The sooner he can learn strategies to lessen his sensitivities, the better off he will be.

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