Misophonia: The Hatred of Sound Explained

misophonia explained

Last updated: January 10, 2022 at 10:09 am

Have you ever heard of Misophonia? It’s a very rare condition where certain everyday sounds will set off an automatic, negative physical and emotional reaction. Sounds like chewing, tapping, and whistling can drive a person with Misophonia crazy or upset.

But at the heart of Misophonia is one thing: dealing with anger. Here’s some info on misophonia and tips for coping.

What is Misophonia?

Misophonia means “hatred of sound.” It is characterized by a strong emotional response (anger, disgust, or panic) to certain sounds. These sounds are typically everyday noises like chewing, pen clicking, breathing, and sniffling. Because of this, misophonia is often referred to as selective sound sensitivity syndrome.

In its science, misophonia is not a psychological disorder and does not stem from obsessive-compulsive behaviours. It does not appear to be linked to autism spectrum disorders or schizophrenia. Misophonia is an involuntary reflex in which the autonomic nervous system reacts to ordinary sounds like those that most people ignore or do not mind.

People with misophonia have varying degrees of tolerance for triggering sounds, but all react with anger and irritability. Many also have trouble focusing on normal activities while exposed to triggering sounds.

The severity of misophonia varies greatly from person to person. Some people with misophonia are triggered by certain everyday sounds that most people would consider harmless.

For example, some people with misophonia might be triggered by the chewing of gum or slurping of soup. Other people with misophonia may have more specific triggers such as the sound of breathing through the nose or even only a particular word (such as “huh”).

However, most people with misophonia are only triggered by very intense triggers. Many times, these intense triggers will be accompanied by an immediate physical response. Common physical responses to misophonic triggers include sweating, increased heart rate, feeling sick to one’s stomach, hot or cold flushes, and even fainting.

Is It Harmful?

The severity of misophonia varies greatly among individuals. The emotional responses can include rage, sadness, or feeling an urgent need to escape the place where the trigger sound occurs.

For some, it might result in a few uncomfortable situations per month. For others, it might result in panic attacks and suicidal thoughts daily.

People with misophonia are often treated as if they are being overly sensitive or exaggerating their symptoms. This can result in frustration and anger for those with the disorder. They may be accused of being irrational or overly sensitive when they attempt to explain how they feel about particular sounds.

Due to this lack of understanding and accommodation for their condition, people with misophonia may feel isolated and misunderstood. They may also feel embarrassed or ashamed about their symptoms because others do not seem to take them seriously. This can result in social isolation which can harm an individual’s mental health over time.

a pen clicking sound

What Causes Misophonia?

The cause of misophonia is unknown as well as its exact prevalence, but some studies suggest it may affect more than 5% of the population.

Misophonics report that their first experience with misophonia was most likely at a young age. In many cases, they report having had significant problems during childhood and adolescence due to their sensitivity to specific sounds. These problems were not properly diagnosed until adulthood when they searched for treatment options.

The exact cause has yet to be discovered but several theories try to explain the phenomenon. One theory suggests that the brain’s limbic system becomes hyper-reactive when exposed to specific triggers. This causes an exaggerated and involuntary emotional response by the sufferer.

Brain imaging has shown that those with misophonia have different patterns of activation in these areas compared to normal control subjects.

Symptoms of Misophonia

Symptoms seem to vary from person to person, but the most common ones are:

Repulsion to Specific Sounds

These can be loud or soft sounds and can include some noises you might expect, like gum-smacking or heavy breathing. But they can also include innocuous sounds, like the crinkling of tissue paper or the crunching of ice cubes.

The noise itself may not bother other people, including family members, but it bothers you intensely – even if you’re not consciously aware of it.

Emotional Response

It’s not just that you hate the sound; it makes you feel angry or anxious. The emotions may be mild at first, but they can grow more intense over time. For example, hearing someone chew or slurp their food makes you feel irritated or angry.

Physical Response

This is where misophonia gets weird. Not only do you hate the sound and feel angry about it, but your body reacts physically to it as well – maybe your heart rate goes up, or your face feels hot (or both).

Other physical symptoms include sweating and muscle tension in response to trigger sounds.

Avoidance

People with Misophonia have been known to avoid situations where there is an elevated risk of exposure to specific sounds.

Trouble Controlling Your Anger When Exposed to Trigger Sounds

For example, you might find yourself yelling at someone who is chewing loudly or trying to avoid people who make certain noises.

Increased Sensitivity Over Time

Your triggers change so that some new sounds bother you even though they didn’t use to. You may react by doing things like leaving the room when someone makes a certain sound or perhaps even yelling at them to stop making that noise.

In addition to these symptoms resulting from misophonia, there may be problems at school or work due to anxiety about attending class or work because of trigger sounds.

Trigger sounds may cause family and social problems if one person in the family has misophonia and others do not understand what they are going through. There can be problems with roommates if one person has misophonia while others do not.

Risk Factors of Misophonia

There are many risk factors associated with the disorder, but most of them are still unknown or under research. However, scientists have already discovered factors that might cause misophonia, such as:

Genetics: One study found that misophonic individuals often had family members with similar symptoms, suggesting a genetic basis for the condition. However, more research needs to be done to confirm this theory.

Traumatic events can trigger an onset of misophonia symptoms. In these cases, it is usually associated with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The traumatic events often involve sounds such as gunshots, explosions, or other loud noises that cause an extreme reaction.

Brain structure: Some studies have found that the amygdala (the part of the brain that controls emotion) is larger in those with misophonia than non-sufferers.

Hearing impairment: Some found that misophonic individuals tended to have poorer hearing than controls, though this may be due to a correlation rather than causation.

Other physical or mental disorders: Misophonia may be a symptom of another disorder or condition, such as autism, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or post-traumatic stress disorder.

Environmental factors: The cause of misophonia may be exposure to loud sounds at an early age, like the crying of young children or other people’s yawning. Loud chewing and breathing sounds can also trigger negative reactions in some people with misophonia.

coin noise on table

How Is It Treated?

Treatments for misophonia are still under research. The only certain thing is that misophonia is not a psychological or psychiatric disorder. It can be treated with several different therapies.

Research shows that misophonia has a physiological basis and can be traced to the neurological system of the brain. A few patients report relief from the symptoms by using certain treatments such as relaxation techniques, meditation, hypnosis, and operant conditioning strategies.

There are also other methods of treatment that include:

  • counselling therapies
  • cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT)
  • exposure therapy
  • sensory integration therapy
  • and cognitive remediation therapy (CRT)

Some patients find relief with medication while others may be helped by alternative therapies such as acupuncture and tinnitus retraining therapy (TRT). There are also support groups available for people with the condition where they can meet others suffering from similar problems and share their experiences.

Think You Have Misophonia?

It can be hard to describe the symptoms of misophonia because it manifests in so many different ways for so many different individuals. With treatment options available there is no reason to suffer alone if you experience this condition.

The anger and hatred that a person feels in response to the trigger sound is the most common aspect. But, there are other symptoms as well, including anxiety, disproportionately strong physical reactions like a racing heartbeat or nausea, and negative thoughts about the world.

Generally, this thought often centres around the belief that we live in a hostile world where sounds are too loud. People are inconsiderate about how they make noise.

It’s important to note that misophonia is not an extreme sensitivity to normal sounds–it’s specifically an abnormally negative reaction to sounds.

You don’t need to worry if you notice that you feel angry when someone nearby is chewing loudly or rustling their newspaper. But if these feelings become stronger over time it’s worth checking in with your doctor.

Final Thought

Hopefully, the above has given you some insight into misophonia. If you are experiencing a lot of negative emotions triggered by sounds, you might want to check with your doctor about misophonia.

However, a way to manage misophonia is to start with a good understanding of your triggers and then work on ways to cope with them. Work on distracting yourself from the sounds that trigger your negative emotions by closing your eyes. Listening to calm music or pictures, counting, breathing, and many other ways.

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About the Author: AJ

AJ writes about living a quieter life, soundproofing tips and recommending the best quiet products here on Quiet Living.

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