If You Can’t Stand Certain Sounds, This Might Be Why

New research suggests that more people have this condition than previously thought.

Do certain sounds drive you up the wall? Maybe it’s the sound of someone chewing, drinking, fidgeting or sniffing. Or maybe it’s a repetitive sound like someone tapping on a keyboard, clicking their pen, or even breathing loudly. More than just being a pet peeve, do these kinds of sounds trigger an over-the-top reaction in you? If so, you might be one of the many people who suffer from misophonia. A new study in the UK journal PLOS ONE suggests more people than we thought currently suffer from misophonia.

What is misophonia?

Misophonia is a brain abnormality that causes an acute reaction to specific, usually low-volume sounds. Because the condition is poorly understood, misophones struggle to convince others that their problem isn’t a form of mental illness.

Misophonia ranges from mild to severe. Some report a range of physiologic and emotional responses, with accompanying cognitions. Mild reactions include anxiousness, discomfort, disgust or the urge to flee. More severe responses include rage, panic, fear and emotional distress.

How many people have misophonia?

The study in PLOS ONE estimated that at least 18% of people in the study showed symptoms of misophonia that cause a significant burden in their life. That translates to nearly 1 in 5 people—far more common than previously thought.

How do people experience misophonia?

Ear Protector Clamping An Ear on a light blue backgroundMirageC/Getty Images

The most common reaction reported by misophones was irritation, except in the case of loud chewing, where disgust was more frequent, according to the study. Many of the sounds frequently reported as triggers in misophonia are also clearly annoying to non-misophones. However, there are key differences in the outsized reactions in misophonia. Researchers studied how to evaluate someone for the signs and severity of misophonia.

For instance, triggers such as having a reaction to normal breathing or swallowing indicate high levels of misophonia. Both these sounds were reported as eliciting no feeling in most of the general population. The other key difference was the reaction of anger and panic reported by misophones, compared to mild irritation experienced by the general population.

While the study shows that misophonia is a relatively common condition, further research is needed to determine at what point this condition becomes “disordered” in terms of distress, impact and need for treatment.

How can you treat misophonia?

There are a few ways that people with misophonia can cope with this syndrome.

  • Identify triggers, looking for ways to then minimize trigger sounds where possible
  • Develop coping strategies and techniques through forms of psychotherapy to help minimize severe reactions
  • Wear earplugs or noise-canceling headphones
  • Try using white, pink or brown noise

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