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Child Development

Noise Sensitivity ADHD: Is It a Symptom?

March 6, 2023
Table of Contents

    People with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are significantly more likely to experience sensory issues. Sensory issues refer to hypersensitivity to stimuli of any kind. Some people may be more sensitive to visual stimuli, like bright lights, whereas others might be more sensitive to textures, scents, tastes, or sounds. In this article, we are going to focus on sound sensitivity.

    Let's go over what noise sensitivity means and the different types first. Then, we'll talk about potential links between noise sensitivity and ADHD and how to manage it, as well as treatment options.

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    What Is Noise Sensitivity?

    Noise sensitivity refers to abnormal or extreme sensitivity to sounds. In a person with sound sensitivity, certain sounds provoke an extreme emotional reaction or other symptoms. The specific sounds that trigger emotional responses in people can vary. Common external noises that cause distress in those with this form of hypersensitivity include but aren't limited to the following:

    • Eating sounds, like chewing, slurping, or swallowing
    • Clinking noises (e.g., a metal spoon against a bowl)
    • Any abrupt or loud sounds
    • Tapping or clicking
    • Rustling noises
    • A ticking clock
    • Whistling
    • Sniffing

    An audiologist can help you identify the cause or type of noise sensitivity you are most likely experiencing and recommend treatment options.

    Different types

    There are different types of sound or noise sensitivity. Noise sensitivity is often best described by one of the following four categories:


    Misophonia translates to "hatred for sound" and is also sometimes called selective sound sensitivity syndrome. With misophonia, people experience heightened sensitivity to various everyday sounds that leads to extreme emotional reactions like anger, disgust, nervousness, or panic. One may feel the need to flee the room or experience great discomfort when confronted with a trigger sound. Trigger sounds will differ in those with misophonia but may include chewing noises, a clock ticking, or other repetitive sounds.

    Misophonia is triggered by the type of sound rather than the volume (or perceived volume) of sounds, which sets it apart from some other types of sound sensitivity.


    Whereas misophonia leads to emotional reactions to certain sounds, hyperacusis causes extreme sensitivity to sound in the form of physical pain. With hyperacusis, the brain processes sounds as louder than they actually are, which feels physically painful for the person experiencing it.

    Hyperacute hearing

    Hyperacute hearing starts at birth. It is more common in those who have autism spectrum disorder (ASD), but anyone can have it. Hyperacute hearing may still be referred to by another name (e.g., hyperacusis or misophonia). The main reason someone might use this term is to communicate that it is a life-long problem.


    Recruitment is a physical condition that refers to reduced tolerance for loudness. Unlike the types of sound sensitivity listed above, it pairs with inner ear hearing loss. It may be addressed differently than misophonia or hyperacusis.

    Noise Sensitivity and ADHD

    Noise sensitivity is not a direct symptom of ADHD in the diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (DSM), which is used to diagnose ADHD and other conditions, and it does not need to be present for an ADHD diagnosis to occur. However, evidence suggests that people with ADHD are more likely to experience sensory over-responsivity at large. Some experts even suggest that sensory over-responsivity could be an added dimension in ADHD.

    We do know that the ADHD brain may find it harder to "filter" some sensory input. People with ADHD who find themselves easily distracted may notice that hypersensitivity makes it worse - another worthwhile note. While there's very little research on forms of sound sensitivity like misophonia at this time, many people with ADHD self-report an exaggerated response to sounds and other sensory processing issues, which should be considered.

    More research is needed to determine a true connection, but the few studies that have taken it into account show that certain conditions, including ADHD, and sound sensitivity specifically could be linked. Regardless, sound sensitivity is real, and learning to manage hypersensitivity can help both those with and without ADHD cope.

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    How to Manage Noise Sensitivity

    Noise sensitivity can seriously affect a person's daily life. We know based on research that the reactions people with noise sensitivity have to sound are real with physical markers of stress to boot, so know that it is not "in your head." Try these tips to help yourself or a child in your life manage symptoms of noise sensitivity.

    Be aware of your sound sensitivity 

    Awareness can go a long way when it comes to sound sensitivity. When you are aware of sound sensitivity or any tendency toward sensory overload you have, you can take the steps to manage hypersensitivity when it happens instead of putting yourself through the distress. When possible, this may look like removing yourself from situations where certain sounds are present. In other situations, it might look like using other sounds, external tools, or calming techniques to manage hypersensitivity. If the person experiencing hypersensitivity is your child, you can share coping strategies with them.

    Noise-canceling headphones 

    Noise-canceling headphones are a serious game-changer for many people with sensory processing issues. They can help you avoid sensory overload, and in turn, the strong emotions and discomfort that comes with it. You can find noise-canceling headphones in-store or online, often for around $80-300.

    Put on music or TV

    While it may seem odd to add more sounds with auditory sensitivity, it can also be incredibly helpful. Try listening to music you enjoy or watch TV to block out sounds that elicit emotional reactions and other symptoms.

    Listen to calming sounds

    As an alternative to other types of background noise like music or TV, many people with ADHD benefit from listening to white noise, green noise, and other calming sounds. Some people notice that it helps them focus, but you can use it to cope with sound sensitivity, too. You can listen to white noise and other calming sounds with Spotify, YouTube, or noise apps.


    There are various treatment options for those who face sound sensitivity. The specific treatments you encounter may depend on the root of your noise sensitivity. An audiologist or another medical provider you see may be able to refer you for treatment. Most often, treatment options for concerns like misophonia include the following:

    Mental health therapy

    The first line of treatment for sound sensitivity most often involves working with a mental health professional for talk therapy. Notably, cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) are common treatment options. However, other therapies, including hypnotherapy, can also be used. Mental health professionals can help individuals improve their quality of life and navigate hypersensitivity.

    Tinnitus retraining therapy (TRT)

    Some people with hypersensitivity to sound benefit from tinnitus retraining therapy (TRT). TRT was designed to treat tinnitus but can also give people with misophonia and other types of noise sensitivity relief.

    Calming techniques

    Calming techniques, such as meditation and other mindfulness-based interventions, can have a positive impact on those with noise sensitivity who feel overwhelmed and need relief. While they are not necessarily treatment options, sound sensitivity is something that is unlikely to go away, so having coping skills to use long-term matters.


    Although ADHD symptoms do not include sound sensitivity, sound or auditory sensitivity is more common in people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and related disorders. If extreme sensitivity to noises of any kind is affecting your daily life, well-being, or social relationships, seek help from a medical or mental health professional. Different treatment options for sound sensitivity vary and may depend on the type of sound sensitivity your symptoms stem from but often includes mental health therapy, tinnitus retraining therapy (TRT), and/or calming techniques.


    Dr. Brittany Ferri, PhD

    Brittany is a registered and licensed occupational therapist who holds a PhD in Integrative Mental Health. She is the owner of a writing and consulting company called Simplicity of Health. She has direct experience in program development, behavioral health, pediatrics, and telehealth. She has published five books, lectured at 20+ OT/OTA programs, and has been quoted as a health expert by NBC News, WebMD, CNN, and other outlets.


    Dr. Brittany Ferri, PhD

    Brittany is a registered and licensed occupational therapist who holds a PhD in Integrative Mental Health. She is the owner of a writing and consulting company called Simplicity of Health. She has direct experience in program development, behavioral health, pediatrics, and telehealth. She has published five books, lectured at 20+ OT/OTA programs, and has been quoted as a health expert by NBC News, WebMD, CNN, and other outlets.