Willeke Van Eeckhoutte is an Irish MS advocate and blogger. She agreed to share with EMSP her article on a less debated symptom of multiple sclerosis (MS): noise intolerance.


Of the most commonly used human senses, hearing is perhaps the one we take for granted the most.

While my hearing is, in fact, normal, the older I get, the more I find loud sounds hard to stomach. Not only mentally, but physically I am finding it tough to try and remain focused in noisy environments because its impact on my body can be quite drastic.

What is noise intolerance in MS?

I get stabbing eye pain from noise. Or intense dull facial pain that can last for days.

Sadly, trigeminal neuralgia takes no prisoners. Neither does hyperacusis. Auditory symptoms in MS are not widely discussed, so it’s worth telling that noise intolerance is associated with demyelinating lesions present in the central auditory area.

I wholeheartedly agree that a lot of healthy people also have issues with noise, and how easily they get distracted by different sounds. Sadly, I received much ignorance when I tried to explain the complexity of noise intolerance, and the relation between noise and facial pain, and MS and auditory symptoms.

Many times I had to pull out of a professional meeting or a social gathering, and to this day, I still feel that noise has turned me into an anxious being.

How to manage noise intolerance

What a severe symptom like this does teach us, though, is how we can best create a workaround that should lessen its impact on us.

  • With a little help from those around us, we should be able to live life peacefully. However, if trying to explain noise intolerance to people didn’t work out that well at first, change the dialogue. Sometimes people need to see it from another side than just their own before they can mentally place your illness. In my case, being humorous, sarcastic and ironic usually helps.
  • When noise intolerance strikes you hard while watching television, turn off the volume, and turn on the subtitles so you can still follow what is happening.
  • Ask people to help somewhat by “lowering their voice for a short while”. However, don’t say “for the rest of the day,” as that would only lead to an unhappy atmosphere. Quite often, loud people don’t even realise they are being this way.
  • Arrange to meet people in smaller groups of three or four, and in a place where there is no loud music or kids shouting. The only time I would be in a larger group would be during family events, advocacy get-togethers or meetings/conferences.
  • Try to invoke a meditation session in your mind using a mantra.
  • Reading seems to make me more relaxed when I find myself in a noisy environment, as I’m replacing humdrum with the words I am reading in my mind.

There is a myriad of ways you can ‘escape’ your intolerance. I’m quite sure you can come up with many. As time goes on, you learn how to avoid that which makes you quiver, and if you cannot, take some precautions before you leave the house (earplugs, cotton wool, etc.).

Noise intolerance is not something widely discussed amongst people with MS. Please help spread the word, so.

Want to find out more about MS, read Willeke’s award-nominated blog on http://irelandms.com

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