Certain sounds make people cringe. Hearing the sound of nails on a chalkboard, a person chewing, breathing, yawning and certain loud noises are extremely sensitive to some people. Sometimes these sounds can actually be almost physically painful, which is described as misophonia. Some people live with this every day. This term means “hatred of sound” and a condition in which normal, everyday noises cause extreme emotional and sometimes physical distress. Even the sound of someone fidgeting or tapping their fingers or dripping water, can lead these people to significant discomfort and drive them right up a wall.
The husband and wife research team of Margaret and Pawel Jastreboff reportedly coined the term misophonia, also referred to as “mastication rage” as well as selective sound sensitivity syndrome. It was only around 2000 that this name was given to the condition by the Jasreboffs.
There was a study in 2013 involving 42 people with misophonia that revealed many similar symptoms were share with others in the group. Animal sounds did not typically cause distress nor those made by the patients themselves. Some of the most offensive sounds included:
• Eating-related sounds like lip smacking
• Loud breathing or nose sounds
• Typing on a keyboard or pen-clicking
Some visual triggers were enough to trigger misophonia symptoms in some cases, like someone eating or rocking their leg. Negative reactions that were felt immediately from witnessing the trigger included:
• Anger (some patients becoming verbally or physically aggressive)
There were reports by the patients of feeling a loss of self-control, even though they knew these aggressive reactions and feelings of disgust were excessive and unreasonable. All of the participants said they would actively avoid triggers by wearing headsets or earplugs, or even avoid social situations altogether.
There is nothing wrong with the ears, but is rather related to how sound affects your individual brain. This was described by the Jastreboffs as an “abnormally strong reaction of the autonomic and limbic systems resulting from enhanced connections between the auditory and limbic system”.
Most participants said their symptoms began during childhood in association with disgust felt when they heard family members chewing (onset average age of 13). Some tend to show traits of PTSD or OCPD, but the definitive underlying causes of misophonia remain a mystery.
Tinnitus, misophonia and hyperacusis may be related conditions. Many patients just learn to live with their symptoms by lessening exposure to these offensive noises with earplugs or headphones to tune out sounds. Counseling with a psychologist and also sound therapy are often recommended.
If this is something you struggle with yourself, just accept some relief that you are definitely not alone. There are even support groups available, or start up a discussion with other misophonia sufferers online for some reassurance.
-Dr Fredda Branyon