I have always been somewhat sensitive to noisy environments, and over the past few years his has seemed like an increasing obstacle to my social life (possibly because I’ve become more ambitious rather than more sensitive).
A few months ago I tried Auditory Integration Training (AIT), which consists of listening to music CDs with strange noises added. I don’t understand it very well, but part of what it does is train my brain to equalize the sensitivity in each ear at a particular frequency.
About halfway through the program I noticed a clear improvement in my ability to handle noise levels in a typical restaurant or subway. That improvement has persisted for several months. I think I was previously using a lot of mental energy to filter out background noise, especially when trying to hold a conversation.
AIT is expensive and has a somewhat poor reputation. My impression is that it is only appropriate for a small number of people who suffer from auditory overload. But I felt the auditory overload was enough of a problem for me to be worth trying what might well be a placebo (and I can’t be confident that it was more than a placebo, but placebos are sometimes better than nothing). I suspect that whatever scientific tests that have been done on AIT looked at symptoms that are only loosely related to auditory overload. And it wouldn’t be easy to design good measures of the auditory overload that it seems to help with.
I recommend AIT to people who have unusual sensitivity to noise levels that most people can handle, but I also recommend skepticism about the broader claims that have been made about AIT.
Update on 2014-02-14: my sensitivity to noise has fluctuated a good deal since then without any clear improvement, and it’s quite possible that the improvement I felt while using AIT was an ordinary change unrelated to AIT.