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Need to Know: Do Noisy Celebrations Affect You More with MS?

Need to Know: Do Noisy Celebrations Affect You More with MS?

Editor’s note: “Need to Know” is a series inspired by common forum questions and comments from readers. Have a comment or question about MS? Visit our forums. This week’s question is inspired by the forum topic “Do Noise and Crowds Tend to Negatively Affect You More with MS?” from November 15, 2018.

If you live in the U.S. or Canada, you probably celebrated Independence Day last week. And if you live with multiple sclerosis, you will know that the loud parties and popping fireworks are unsettling for more than just the local fire marshall.

These noisy, crowded celebrations leave pet owners and parents of small children ducking for cover — and people with MS are right behind them, with a “No, thank you” to invitations to municipal fireworks displays.

Why do we become sensitive to noise and crowds as a result of MS?

You can thank MS for ‘janky’ nerves

The outcome of demyelination is the deterioration of myelin, the coating of our nerves. If you have ever experienced an exposed nerve while visiting the dentist, then you know the painful, “janky” sensation of a nerve struck and vibrating like a plucked guitar string.

Even partial loss of the waxy coating results in amplification of sensations that are part of the signaling process. This explains why you may be jumpy when you hear sudden noises — you’re neurologically more sensitive to them.

There’s a band playing in your head

Hyperacusis is a potentially debilitating hearing disorder that can be caused by nerve damage to areas of the brain that process hearing, leading to a heightened sensitivity to ranges and frequencies of sounds. These painful sensations can be felt across the ears and face.

Tinnitus — or ringing of the ears — is often a companion to hyperacusis. The ringing can be a high-pitched background buzz or whine, or it can literally sound like you are in a belfry with the Hunchback of Notre Dame surrounded by pealing bells.

Sensory overload happens

We may face overstimulation while going about our daily lives. A commute to and from work can be fatiguing, for instance. Work travel by plane or another significant transportation effort is, for many with MS, an occupational hazard.

Raising children is a continuous dance with sensory overload: the noises, smells, constant attention to external stimuli — such as conversations and active little bodies — while also trying to manage your inner concerns, including urgent bathroom needs in public, memory lapses, and fatigue while shopping.

Sensory overload includes more than mere hypersensitivity to noise. Visual “noise” that comes from being in places with lots of imagery, lights, and movement can leave you feeling overwhelmed. Cross conversation can be confusing, especially if there is background noise or music. Other sensory problems can be related to taste, smell, and touch.

How to survive noisy public holidays

  1. Stay in. If it’s an option, why not? Summer celebrations can include a small barbecue, picnic at the beach, or decorating your home with flags and bunting. If you live near a parade route, you have the added pleasure of watching from your balcony, deck, or window in a comfortable chair out of the sun, without having to fight the crowds.
  2. When staying in is not an option. What if your kids are on the Little League parade float, you are part of a volunteer effort at the local street fair, or you just love to watch the fireworks? Then pack earplugs or play relaxing music on noise-canceling earbuds to mitigate tinnitus.
  3. Other survival tips:
    • Sunglasses can be a good buffer for excess visual stimuli.
    • Companions can navigate long lines for hot dogs and sno-cones.
    • A virtual map app of nearby public restrooms is a must-have if you’re in a crowded public space.
    • Don’t forget to manage heat and hydration. Keep a bottle of water handy, use cooling gear, and carry a small misting fan if high temperatures are expected.
    • Look for quiet rest areas at festivals and fairs. “Sensory inclusive” spaces are becoming a “thing” as neurodivergent communities demand them.


Do you duck and cover as Independence Day approaches? What tips and tricks for surviving holiday sensory overload can you share with others? Post your replies in the comments below or at the original “Do Noise and Crowds Tend to Negatively Affect You More with MS?” forum entry.


Note: Multiple Sclerosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Multiple Sclerosis News Today or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to multiple sclerosis.

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  1. While my wife has had progressive MS for more than 20 years, she does enjoy fireworks a great deal and has so since childhood. I on the other hand can easily do without all the pomp and ceremony, especially on the Fourth of July, as I do not view this “holiday” as a day worth celebrating independence at the expense of Native Nations who have been and continue to be oppressed ever since….Just saying….

  2. Pik says:

    Over exposed noise makes me worse. July 4th,dad has tv loud,a/c unit loud,my niece/nephew talk 3 times louder than normal like megaphone bouncing off the wall. Told mom when i left my head hurts.Affects my walking&balance.Wear earplugs to sleep for 25 years now.I need to use them more often now. High pitch,constant repetitive noise is hard.I have tinnitus most of time.Doesn’t take much for me.

    • Debra Barton says:

      Yes yes yes exactly! You nailed it completely.

      I never could stand to be around kids and absolutely hate hearing a tv.

      Tinnitus now 6 or so years, I lose track.

      Thank you!

    • Tamara Sellman says:

      Hi Pik
      I have super-loud neighbors. It’s like they are all hard of hearing, the shouting is just their normal volume. And then they take phone calls outside. Argh! I live in the woods to get away from noise pollution!

      My head also hurts, spins, I get fatigued, tinnitus.

      I had to stop my volunteer work at the local pool because it was such a loud space that I would come home with churchbells filling my ears.

      You are not alone, my friend.

  3. Linda Sasser says:

    Thank you so much for this post. I suffer from tinnitus as well as hyperacusis and discovered sensory overload in airports, professional conferences and other busy, noisy settings. No one, including my neurologists, friends, and family understand. Finally, I found this to explain for me.

    • Tamara Sellman says:

      Linda, thanks for writing. Airports are terrible! Street fairs, conferences, festivals, public markets all have an impact on me. Sensory overload is no small thing. I’m glad this column clarifies things for you. Solidarity in silence,

  4. Ricki Becker says:

    Having a brand new puppy, we got to beg out of all the loud celebrations this year. But normally I can not stand fireworks. They disturb my balance walking back home and make the entire night a wash-out!!

    • Tamara Sellman says:

      Ricki, I hear you (pun intended, because if we can’t laugh, we would all be just crying!)
      My neighbors had really loud fireworks this 4th, and didn’t shoot them until well after midnight. Not sure which I disliked more, the volume or the timing. My sleep, that night, was a wash out.

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