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Noise Issues (and how I'm fighting them)

Blog entry posted by Dainty, Nov 17, 2013.

Sorry I disappeared so suddenly on everyone without warning, and haven't been responding to messages. My improvement has continued in every area except for noise sensitivity, which is causing major issues. When I can spend just a week living alone without noise nearby my functionality improves more than 50% and my brainfog all but disappears. This didn't used to be the case, mind you, but after this past year's improvement of a few key treatment approaches, noise disturbance is now the main thing holding me back.

It's not just holding me back - it's throwing my nervous system haywire, I become ridiculously desperate for rest and quiet and any further noise can make me involuntarily scream.

My most tangible problem at the moment is soundproofing my bed from vibrational noise. Noise can travel through air or through vibrations, and when I'm in a woodframe house the vibrations from doors closing, cupboards, microwave, footsteps, or the washing machine gets to my nervous system. At best, it prevents wrest. At worst it's deeply traumatizing and takes days to recover from - within which I'm likely retraumatized several times, creating a vicious cycle.

Solutions that have helped:
  • Felt pads - cheap, you can get these just about anywhere, in various types and sizes. You stick them onto the contact areas of cupboards, doors, and the like so when it closes it's not as loud.
    • If you're sensitive to adhesives you can make your own with any kind of fabric cut to size and stuck on there with whatever you tolerate; I'm fairly sensitive and usually find these are okay.
  • "Soft close" door slamming hardware. These are a step up from felt pads in that they prevent the slam from happening in the first place. There are various solutions on the market for both doors and cupboards/drawers. These are my ideal solution, but not always feasible. We installed something on the door that slammed the worst for me and it removed the problem 100%. Now it's impossible to slam. :D
  • Vibration isolation pads these are placed beneath footed objects to create a barrier to traveling vibrations. They're most commonly placed under machinery (source of vibrations), but I also find value in placing them under my bedposts when the floor is prone to vibrations. Typically a basement floor, or first floor of a house without a basement, is solid enough that I notice no difference with the pads vs. no pads under my bed. But in an RV or second floor of a house they create a huge improvement.
    • The rubber on these is chemical and does outgass. Leaving in the sun helped enough that I currently use them without protection (so long as my face isn't near them), but those especially sensitive may want to enclose them in a ziplock back or other barrier method for use.
  • Bose active noise cancelling headphones. Terribly expensive, but this is one of the best purchases I've ever made. Active noise canceling technology addresses deep engine sounds like lawn mowers, airplanes, and road noise. Car rides are 10X easier with these on; it's incredible how peaceful and quiet they make things. Lawn mowers used to force me to evacuate; now I just put these on, flip the switch, and I'm good to go. They aren't an ideal solution for sleeping, but I have slept in them in desperate occasions.
    • These definitely have a chemical smell when new, and though I'm ridiculously sensitive to chemical rubber and faux leather somehow these managed to miss all my worst sensitivities. I'd be happy to swap you my used ones for new ones if that would possibly help you.
  • Foam mattress topper - this drastically reduced noise, but unfortunately it began affecting my sleep and structural issues so I couldn't stick with it. Surprise - when removed from my mattress suddenly I realize noise is so much worse again!
    • Most of these are full of petrochemicals and are horrible for MCS. Either get a 100% natural latex one or consider wrapping a chemical one in a plastic mattress bag. Standard mattress covers are vinyl and I can't sleep on them, but this plastic is safe for me chemically these days. It crinkles with movement, though! Pick your poison...
Solutions with mixed results:
  • Custom earplugs. After literally trying every stock earplug on the market and finding them absolutely intolerable (uncomfortable) I finally broke down and spent $100 on customs. It was a stressful, lengthy process. These do work and most days are tolerable (barely!) but insertion/removal can be painful if done too frequently. It's nice to have them now, but I only actually put them in when I know I'll be wearing them for long periods with no need to take them out. They still cause some discomfort, but the longer I wear them the more comfortable they are. Sleep in noisy environments becomes possible, and in excessively noisy places I'll combine them with my headphones.
    • I had to return these a few times before they got it right. The first few times I noticed no MCS reaction; the last time they sent a brand new pair direct from the factory and it reeked of nail polish smell so strong I couldn't be in the same room as it without my throat closing. However within a couple days it was nearly gone, and within a week had dissipated completely.
  • Acoustic foam window plug. I think this helps some with traffic noises, but doesn't seem to make much difference for vibrational noise traveling which is my main issue. It blocks out all light coming form the window, which is the main benefit for me and I'd recommend it for that purpose.
    • Very problematic for MCS. The giant plastic bags can come in handy if tolerable. I found the foam by itself was okay after a few weeks of outgassing if cold, but if the sun shines directly on it it heats up and I'm reacting all over the place if it's not encased.
  • White/pink/brown noise. Can either listen to it from music media or create it yourself from an air purifier or somesuch like I do. This helps reduce the "shock" of unpredictable noises, I find, just kinda drowns them out a bit and makes it all even. The issue is that I don't rest nearly as deeply when surrounded by white noise as I do in a completely silent environment. So while it helps a lot in bad environments, the continuous noise in and of itself still negatively impacts my body.
  • Soundscapes. Recordings of pleasant sounds, usually edited and occasionally synthetically modified or created. Listen to waves, wind, birds chirping, a babbling brook, whatever. It's similar to white noise but distinctly different in that the actual sounds are variable so that it more thoroughly distracts your brain. I find this works wonderfully in the moment and can really help with winding down for sleep, but I routinely experience increased noise sensitivity up to 12 hours after using these. I also tend to develop sensitivities to certain parts of some tracks, which only worsen with exposure. The parts cuasing me problems can be edited, but it's labor intensive and incompatible with brainfog.
    • This place has the widest variety of options, full samples, and the best satisfaction guarantee I've ever encountered. If a track doesn't work for you she'll let you pick out another one.
  • Passive (non-electric) headphones. These never worked well for me, but might for someone else. I could never find ones that both blocked enough noise and didn't give me headaches. The ones that sorta worked didn't do enough to stop the sudden unexpected sounds, and moreover prevented me from plugging my ears in response, which just made things worse. I'd choose regular headphones with regular music (or one of the above options) over these any day. If you're interested in buying a pair or two off me to try, let me know!
  • Getting angry at the sound. I know it seems weird, but if I have the energy for it and am able to put myself in that headspace it helps block the specific noise from getting inside my head in a harmful way. Unfortunately it's usually at a time I'm trying to rest and relax, and often I just don't have the energy or am too traumatized already to engage with it. This technique works best when I've had ample time (weeks) to recover from noise exposure, and then have the strength to meet it head on when next exposed.
Stuff that made no noticeable difference:
  • Cork as vibration isolation pads. Was hopeful this would help, but made no difference that I could tell.
  • Asking people to be quiet. Sorry, in my experience this doesn't work. While they might temporarily be a little bit quieter, they tend to stress and then what noise they do make penetrates more traumatically for it. It also creates a dynamic where I'm expecting them to be considerate and when they simply forget then I emotionally interpret that as uncaring. More friction, more stress, and each noise is worse.
  • Pillow over ears.
  • Crying. This natural processing of emotion tend to open me up to further traumatization by the noise as it continues. Instead, I find it safer to lock myself down emotionally until I can be reasonably certain I won't be further disturbed, and only then unlocking myself and letting the emotion process out.
Solutions I'm trying next (or hope to try):
  • Acoustical foam beneath mattress. Hopefully this will prevent the vibrations from reaching my mattress at all so that I can rest/sleep without them disturbing me.
  • Cork flooring. Currently not feasible, but this would really help with two things: other people's footsteps on the floor, and dampening the sound when something is accidentally dropped on the floor. Carpet would probably be even better but is out of the question for me.
  • EVACUATION. I'm planning to get a camper van so that I always have a ready-to-go option to escape intolerable noise. It's an extreme solution, but necessary in my case. I may actually end up living a somewhat nomadic lifestyle. This wouldn't have been possible 6 months ago, but it is now and I'm determined to do whatever it takes to continue my healing journey.
I know I'm not the only one who deals with noise sensitivity, so I figured I'd share my experiences so far in addressing it. How about you, how severe is your noise sensitivity? Have you found some things that help, or others that you thought would help but didn't?
S.A. and Nico like this.
Dainty

About the Author

Dainty became ill as a teenager and spent 7 years mostly bedridden from ME/CFS, life-threatening MCS reactions, extreme food allergies/sensitivities, cognitive impairment, fibromyalgia, episodes of temporary paralysis and various unexplained emergencies. The past couple years she has experienced profound improvement from various treatment approaches. She's now tackling independence and continues to pursue healing full time.
  1. Nico
    I use Hearos 33 DCBL (the highest protection). I've had some issues with pain (because I have been using them for years! So, I have to be careful with insertion & removal. One needs to know how to insert and remove correctly. Yes, removing can cause a very loud noise and pain. I live in a concrete jungle. Fortunately, not wood frame house. But, I experienced much of what you're describing when I first became ill, and lived in my parents' house. Although the urban noise is annoying, it was much worse hearing cupboards slamming under me, etc. etc.

    I'm glad you went over the things you've tried. Appreciate! I'd like to know if cork has any MCS triggers.
  2. moblet
    I took up a nomadic lifestyle as soon as I was able for exactly this reason, after getting forced out of yet another previously safe home by new sources of noise from neighbours. My nervous system becomes sensitised to certain kinds of noise with about two weeks' consistent exposure. It's now rare for me to spend two weeks in one place and I can easily and quickly move on if noisy neighbours move in.

    @Iquitos, there are probably tens if not hundreds of thousands of people living like this in the US. If you're serious about considering it, there should be plenty of information on free/cheap camps, dump points, etc, and plenty of used (and often very under-used) rigs for sale. It's not all beer and skittles, since other nomads may have generators and dogs, and some love to slam their doors every time they go to their vehicle.
  3. Dainty
    lquitos, I tell them it's like they have a remote control to my brain and they're accidentally sitting on it pushing buttons. Still they don't get it...they seem to think that as long as it's not intentional I shouldn't be upset. I say it's like a car accident - the injury/damage is the same regardless.

    I only recently got back ability to drive, but I'm in the lucky position of knowing lots of people in my area who would be happy to have me park in their driveway and even use their shower and such. I probably won't even hassle with sewer at first. It'll definitely be an adventure with a learning curve to it!
  4. Dainty
    Great to see you, Willow! So much of navigating through this stuff is "pick your poison" depending on what's most critical at the time. I only included all the MCS notes because with my rapid improvement I didn't want anyone assuming that if I could tolerate this stuff they could. But seriously, though it'd be ideal to live in a chemical-free space reality is there's lots of priorities and that might not be as high on the list as others. Glad you found something that's helping. :)
    WillowJ likes this.
  5. Iquitos
    Thanks for these tips! Hyperacusis is a major problem for me. You are so right, in that asking people to respect ones needs around sound just don't work. One, they just don't get it. Two, they don't/can't remember how bad it affects one. Three, most just don't care enough to keep this problem in mind on a regular basis.

    I'm glad you mention how the vibrations in the body affect you. I, too, feel them strongly and no one I've tried to explain this to gets it. They want to believe sound only affects the ears.

    I try to illustrate the problem by saying if I threw a solid like mud at you, or a liquid like vinegar, or a gas like propane, you'd be so offended that I had invaded your personal space like that. But if you send sound waves into my space, into my body, you don't think I should object? People seem to think that a quick apology after hurting me ought to be sufficient. The cumulative affect is impossible for them to grasp.

    I've wanted to try the headphones, especially for when the leaf blowers/lawn mowers invade my space, but hadn't found any with good reviews. Thanks for doing that for the rest of us!

    I've considered the RV solution, too, but where to park? And will I have the strength and energy to drive, dump the tanks, get repairs, etc?
  6. WillowJ
    Dainty! lovely to hear from you. Thanks for these good ideas! I have noise and sound sensitivity and have used some of these solutions--others of them I want to try!
    We also put rugs down the (hard-surface) halls, although I'm sure that increases the allergens (and yes, there is formaldehyde and bad stuff in carpeting; but there are other fairly new carpets in the house, and I don't have the option of replacing them with something MCS-friendly, so... might as well cut down the noise).
    This won't be suitable for people who can't use medicines, but prophylactic migraine medicine helps my noise, light, and vibration sensitivities a lot. Before that I couldn't really watch TV or ride in the car, and now I can do a little of both. I can also use my computer more, but I still use f.lux and other ways to adjust the color to make it more bearable.
    tc
    Dainty likes this.