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Misophonia

Do certain daily sounds trigger an over-the-top emotional reaction, but don’t seem to bother anyone else? This is the case with misophonia -- a strong dislike or hatred of specific sounds.

What Happens?

Misophonia is a disorder in which certain sounds trigger emotional or physiological responses that some might perceive as unreasonable given the circumstance. Those who have misophonia might describe it as when a sound “drives you crazy.” Their reactions can range from anger and annoyance to panic and the need to flee.  The disorder is sometimes called selective sound sensitivity syndrome.

Individuals with misophonia often report they are triggered by oral sounds  -- the noise someone makes when they eat, breathe, or even chew. Other adverse sounds include. keyboard or finger tapping or the sound of windshield wipers. Sometimes a small repetitive motion is the cause -- someone fidgets, jostles you, or wiggles their foot.

Similarly, people with misophonia also say they often react to the visual stimuli that accompanies sounds and may also respond intensely to repetitive motions. Researchers believe that those with misophonia may already have issues with how their brains filter sounds and that one of the features of “misophonic sounds” may be their repetitive noise. That repetition then exacerbates the other auditory processing problems.

The disorder appears to range from mild to severe. Individuals report a range of physiologic and emotional responses, with accompanying cognitions. If you have a mild reaction, you might feel:

  • Anxious
  • Uncomfortable
  • The urge to flee
  • Disgust

If your response is more severe, the sound in question might cause:

  • Rage
  • Anger
  • Hatred
  • Panic
  • Fear
  • Emotional distress

The disorder can put a cramp in your social life. Those with the misophonia have been known to develop anticipatory anxiety when going into situations where trigger sounds may be present. You might avoid restaurants or eat separately from your spouse, family, or roommates.

Over time, you may also respond to visual triggers, too. Seeing something that you know may create the offending sound may elicit a response.

How Do You Get It?

The age of the onset of this lifelong condition is not known but some people report symptoms between the ages of 9 and 13. Misophonia is more common with girls and comes on quickly, although it doesn’t appear to be related to any one event. Doctors aren’t sure what causes misophonia, but it’s not a problem with your ears. They think it’s part mental, part physical. It could be related to how sound affects your brain and triggers automatic responses in your body.

Because your ears are normal and your hearing is OK, the doctor may have trouble with a diagnosis. Misophonia is sometimes mistaken for anxiety or bipolar or obsessive-compulsive disorder. Some doctors think it should be classified as a new disorder.

Often doctors are unaware of the condition, and there is no consensus regarding classification. Misophonia appears to occur on its own and along with other health, developmental and psychiatric problems. 

A breakthrough study recently found that misophonia is a brain-based disorder. Researchers point to a disruption in the connectivity in parts of the brain that process both sound stimulation and the fight/flight response. It also involves parts of the brain that code the importance of sounds.

How Do You Treat It?

The condition does affect daily life, but you can learn to manage it. Treatment often involves a multidisciplinary approach combining sound therapy by hearing care professionals and supportive counseling in which coping strategies are emphasized.

You might try a device like a hearing aid that creates a sound in your ear like a waterfall. The noise distracts you from triggers and reduces reactions.

Another treatment option is custom earplugs with noise attenuating filters.  The plugs eliminate the annoying sounds but keep the fidelity of sounds and speech.