Many times it happens that small noises like someone chewing, tapping a pen, cracking their knuckles, or other such sounds can bother us immensely. Misophonia is a disorder during which people experience abnormally negative and strong reactions to ordinary everyday sounds that humans make, including breathing or chewing. For people with misophonia, such sounds are not just annoying, but they can actually become unbearable. Read on to find out everything you need to know about misophonia.
What is Misophonia?
Misophonia was first classified as a medical condition in 2001. The term misophonia comes from the ancient Greek word that means ‘hatred of sound.’ It is also known as selective sound sensitivity syndrome, and it happens because of a genuine abnormality of the brain that shows up as both physiological and psychological symptoms.(1,2,3)
While people sometimes tend to get irritated by everyday sounds, but for those with misophonia, even the sound of someone clicking a pen or licking their lips can be unbearable that it makes them want to hit out or scream.(4,5)
Many experts believe that the emotional and physical reactions to such everyday sounds are very similar to the fight or flight response of the body. Due to this, it can cause feelings of panic, rage, and anxiety. This can further lead to isolation, depression, and avoidance.
In a recent study, MRI scans of the brain showed a very notable difference in the structure of the brain of people who have misophonia and also in the manner in which their brains reacted upon hearing the trigger sounds.(1)
Misophonia is a reasonably new condition to have been classified, and therefore research into this condition is also still new. The criteria for diagnosing misophonia have not been included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder (DSM-5) yet. Still, many doctors propose to have it included under ‘Obsessive-Compulsive and Related Disorders.(6)
What are the Triggers for Misophonia?
Sounds that trigger misophonia in people vary and can change over time. Many people with the condition claim that the most common trigger is the sound that comes from other people’s mouths. This can include:(7)
Other Sound Triggers May Include:
- Writing sounds
- Ticking clocks
- Slamming of the car door
- Rustling of papers
- Sounds of crickets, birds, and any other animals
In people with misophonia, nearly any sound can be a potential trigger. In some cases, people with misophonia may also have visual triggers like:
- Nose rubbing
- Hair twirling
- Foot wagging
What are the Causes of Misophonia?
The exact cause of misophonia is not yet known, but it has been observed that there seems to be a higher occurrence of misophonia in people who have the following health conditions:
It is also more commonly observed in people who have tinnitus. Tinnitus is a different type of disorder that causes a person to hear sounds that no one else can hear. A ringing sound in the ears is common with tinnitus.(10,11)
Misophonia is a standalone condition, but there is some overlap with other conditions as well. Many people who have these other conditions that are mentioned above are known to have misophonia. Additionally, the symptoms they cause are also quite similar. For example, a person with anxiety disorder and misophonia may experience sweating, heart racing, and other such symptoms when they are in a stressful situation at work or home and hear a particular noise.
Due to the complexity of misophonia, for years, people with the condition were often misdiagnosed with phobias, anxiety, and other disorders. However, misophonia is now classified as a unique standalone disorder that has its own special symptoms and features, including:
- It is more likely to affect women than men.(12)
- People with misophonia have been found to have higher IQs.
- The onset of the condition is usually before puberty, with the first symptoms showing up between the ages of 9 to 12.
- The initial sound that triggers a person is usually an oral sound from a family member or parent. New triggers continue to arise over time.
- There is a genetic component to misophonia as it tends to run in families.(13)
What Does It Feel Like To Have Misophonia?
One of the best ways to describe what it feels like when someone with misophonia hears or sees a trigger, consider how most people react to hearing nails being dragged across a chalkboard. You are likely to feel your skin prickle, nerves flare up, and you want the noise to stop immediately. While the nails on the chalkboard thing happen just once in a while for a majority of people, but people with misophonia experience such sensations on a daily basis, and that too because of sounds that other people barely notice.
The trigger sounds feel awful to people with misophonia, and they make a person feel anxious. People with this condition may start experiencing the response to the trigger sounds even before they become cognitively aware of hearing them. The sound then slowly takes over their entire cognitive functioning.(14)
Tips for Coping with Misophonia
Misophonia is a lifelong disorder, and there is no cure for it. However, there are many options that are known to be effective in managing the condition. These include:
- Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy: Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a type of therapy that can help change the negative thoughts and associations you have with the trigger sounds. There are ear-level devices that are used to stream audio of nature, rain, or other soothing sounds to provide relief in the symptoms of misophonia.(15)
- Tinnitus Retraining Therapy: This is another type of therapy in which people are taught ways to better tolerate their trigger noises.(16)
- Supportive Counseling: Seeking supportive counseling for a person having misophonia as well as their family is essential. This is because the condition affects the entire family.
As of today, there are no medications approved by the US Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of misophonia, and neither is there any conclusive evidence to show that any medication is effective in treating this condition.
Most people with misophonia are eventually able to overcome the challenges of the disorder and go on to live a good quality of life.
- Kumar, S., Tansley-Hancock, O., Sedley, W., Winston, J.S., Callaghan, M.F., Allen, M., Cope, T.E., Gander, P.E., Bamiou, D.E. and Griffiths, T.D., 2017. The brain basis for misophonia. Current Biology, 27(4), pp.527-533.
- Edelstein, M., Brang, D., Rouw, R. and Ramachandran, V.S., 2013. Misophonia: physiological investigations and case descriptions. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 7, p.296. Cavanna, A.E. and Seri, S., 2015. Misophonia: current perspectives. Neuropsychiatric disease and treatment, 11, p.2117.
- Rouw, R. and Erfanian, M., 2018. A large‐scale study of misophonia. Journal of clinical psychology, 74(3), pp.453-479.
- Taylor, S., 2017. Misophonia: A new mental disorder?. Medical Hypotheses, 103, pp.109-117.
- Porcaro, C.K., Alavi, E., Gollery, T. and Danesh, A.A., 2019. Misophonia: Awareness and Responsiveness among Academics. Journal of Postsecondary Education and Disability, 32(2), pp.107-118.
- Zhou, X., Wu, M.S. and Storch, E.A., 2017. Misophonia symptoms among Chinese university students: Incidence, associated impairment, and clinical correlates. Journal of Obsessive-Compulsive and Related Disorders, 14, pp.7-12.
- Neal, M. and Cavanna, A.E., 2013. Selective sound sensitivity syndrome (misophonia) in a patient with Tourette syndrome. The Journal of neuropsychiatry and clinical neurosciences, 25(1), pp.E01-E01.
- Webber, T.A., Johnson, P.L. and Storch, E.A., 2014. Pediatric misophonia with comorbid obsessive–compulsive spectrum disorders. General hospital psychiatry, 36(2), pp.231-e1.
- Jastreboff, P.J., 2011. Tinnitus retraining therapy. Textbook of tinnitus, pp.575-596.
- Ata.org. 2021. Understanding the Facts. [online] Available at: <https://www.ata.org/understanding-facts> [Accessed 23 February 2021].
- Siepsiak, M., Sobczak, A.M., Bohaterewicz, B., Cichocki, Ł. and Dragan, W.Ł., 2020. Prevalence of Misophonia and Correlates of Its Symptoms among Inpatients with Depression. International journal of environmental research and public health, 17(15), p.5464.
- Sanchez, T.G. and Silva, F.E.D., 2018. Familial misophonia or selective sound sensitivity syndrome: evidence for autosomal dominant inheritance?. Brazilian journal of otorhinolaryngology, 84(5), pp.553-559.
- Brout, J.J., Edelstein, M., Erfanian, M., Mannino, M., Miller, L.J., Rouw, R., Kumar, S. and Rosenthal, M.Z., 2018. Investigating misophonia: A review of the empirical literature, clinical implications, and a research agenda. Frontiers in Neuroscience, 12, p.36.
- Bernstein, R.E., Angell, K.L. and Dehle, C.M., 2013. A brief course of cognitive behavioural therapy for the treatment of misophonia: a case example. Cognitive Behaviour Therapist, 6.
- Jastreboff, P.J. and Jastreboff, M.M., 2014, May. Treatments for decreased sound tolerance (hyperacusis and misophonia). In Seminars in Hearing (Vol. 35, No. 02, pp. 105-120). Thieme Medical Publishers.