I often find myself completely overwhelmed by the noise around me, to the point of bearing my arms down over my head and shutting my ears as tightly as possible.

It's not necessarily the loudness of the noise, and it's definitely not the suddenness, so it has nothing to do with being startled. It's the sheer volume of different noises coming from different directions and different things causing the sensation of being completely overwhelmed.

For me personally I believe this is related to my autism, but I'm not looking for a medical term for a condition - ideally, this should be able to describe the same sensation being felt by a perfectly healthy person without any disorders.

Is there a word for this feeling of being utterly subsumed by noise, especially in crowded areas?

  • Any chance this is tinnitus? Or is it something totally different? – Tushar Raj Jun 2 '15 at 20:37
  • @TusharRaj I've edited my question to answer that. – Zibbobz Jun 2 '15 at 20:40
  • Understood. I edited to highlight your requirement a bit better. – Tushar Raj Jun 2 '15 at 20:42

It might be related to hyperacusis, "a health condition characterized by an over-sensitivity to certain frequency and volume ranges of sound (a collapsed tolerance to usual environmental sound)."...but that is a medical condition, and I think you're asking for a word for the feeling itself.

  • Yes, I'm looking for a word that describes the sensation, not a medical condition (And incidentally, it's my autism that makes me feel this way, not a medical condition). But also, it's more about feeling drowned out and overwhelmed in a crowd - it'd be almost impossible to feel this way about a single noise. – Zibbobz Jun 2 '15 at 20:08
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    Also unrelated, misophonia (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Misophonia), is something I experience quite frequently. Do NOT slurp your coffee/tea around me. – JeffSahol Jun 2 '15 at 20:13
  • Definitely not what I'm looking for, but wow, what a word! I wish I could make a question just for that word so I could upvote it to the heavens. – Zibbobz Jun 2 '15 at 20:16
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    @Zibbobz: I don't have an answer, but if someone else gives you one I shall be interested, as I may be a fellow-sufferer. I don't have autism, and am not afraid of crowds per se, though I don't like them much. But I really cannot tolerate certain noises, like screaming children, it's a wonder and a mercy I haven't murdered one. And I cannot enter most night-spots. A doctor friend says that there is a muscle in the ear that flaps closed against excessive sound, and I have so avoided noise all my life that it has atrophied. – David Pugh Jun 2 '15 at 20:18
  • Actually, reading into the question a little more, your word DOES seem to match - I Just misread what the description meant by "frequency", and the fact that the wiki page doesn't account for it being a non-medical condition (despite "Autism Spectrum" being listed as one of the 'causes' of it), and it doesn't allow for the possibility of non-disorder related hyperacusis. It's close enough that, if I don't see a better answer for the sensation rather than the condition, I will probably wind up accepting this one. – Zibbobz Jun 2 '15 at 20:19

From what I've read and heard about autism, many people with that condition describe experiences of sensory overload which are not restricted to excessive sound stimulation — the problematic stimuli can also be social, visual, tactile, olfactory and gustatory, depending on the individual sufferer and the exact circumstances in which they find themselves.


Yes, deafened, although typically used literally, to mean being rendered permanently or temporarily deaf, also has a secondary, more figurative meaning of being overwhelmed by a loud sound.

(of a loud noise) overwhelm (someone) with sound.
"the roar of the water deafened them"

  • That's...actually pretty good. I usually think of it in the former meaning, and it completely blinded me to the latter meaning. But can it also mean deafened in the sense of being overwhelmed by a single, brief, loud noise? – Zibbobz Jun 2 '15 at 20:50
  • Sure, there's the famous "deafening crowd" but you can also have, for example, a "deafening peal of thunder." – Chris Sunami supports Monica Jun 2 '15 at 21:04

It's not a single word, but I just read this phrase in an article today:

Like many individuals with autism, Emily also has profound auditory sensitivities.

As a reader, that phrase was completely clear as to the situation, which I believe is similar to yours.


Noise anxiety is most commonly a response to trauma, although in some ways it can affect those with nearly any type of anxiety.

The main issue with noise anxiety is that it occurs because of a raised anxiety baseline, common with PTSD. Noise jumps the anxiety above the baseline, potentially leading to increased startle reflexes and possibly panic attacks.


You may be a Highly Sensitive Person. A movie (DVD) entitled "Sensitive, the untold story" is just released. A query about high sensitivity may help or perhaps the book, "Quiet" by Elaine Aron may lead to some answers for you.


Something like Overwhelming Cacophony. I think you will be hard pressed to find a description in one word. Im not aware of a medical term for this feeling, accept the one above: hyperacusis




(Under 'causes' section)

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    Hi, welcome to EL&U! In general, it's a good idea to include the text from whatever definition you've found, as well as the link, and maybe a sentence or two of your own interpretation. In this case, unfortunately following the linked citation suggests that the word is just a Wikipedia typo for anxiety (and, frankly, the cited article doesn't even have anything to do with sensory overload, so it's a very sloppy citation all around). – 1006a May 8 '17 at 4:34

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