According to the American Tinnitus Association, there’s a rare and selective sound sensitivity condition called misophonia. Translated, misophonia means, “hatred of sound.” The condition involves a chronic, abnormal negative emotional reaction to specific sounds. The most common triggers include those generated by the mouth (chewing gum or food, popping lips), the nose (breathing, sniffing, and blowing) or the fingers (typing, clicking pen, drumming on the table).
The National Organization for Rare Diseases says the cause of misophonia is not yet known. Research has suggested it may relate to parts of the brain that are responsible for processing and regulating emotions. Many people with misophonia have relatives with similar symptoms.
Individuals with misophonia experience a fight-or-flight response to these sounds, which can trigger anger, disgust, or the desire to escape. They may have similar reactions to particular visual stimuli. The prevalence of misophonia in the general population is unknown, but it is estimated that 4-5% of tinnitus patients experience some form of the condition.
An extreme reaction to certain sounds is the main characteristic of misophonia. The intensity of the reaction, and how an individual with the condition responds to it, may vary greatly. Some people may become annoyed, while others may become enraged.
Both men and women can develop misophonia at any age, although people typically start showing symptoms in their late childhood or early teenage years.
For many people, their first episodes of misophonia are triggered by one specific sound, but additional sounds can bring on the response over time.
Studies have identified the following emotional responses as symptomatic of misophonia:
- Irritation turning to anger
- Disgust turning to anger
- Becoming verbally aggressive to the person making the noise
- Getting physically aggressive with objects, because of the noise
- Physically lashing out at the person making the noise
- Taking evasive action around people making trigger sounds
In addition to the emotional responses, studies have found that individuals with misophonia commonly experience a number of physical reactions, including:
- Pressure throughout the body, especially the chest
- Muscle tightness
- Increases in blood pressure
- More rapid heartbeat
- Increases in body temperature
Misophonia may affect daily life, but it may be managed by combining different therapies such as sound therapy with counseling, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and exposure, and dialectical behavior therapy. Antidepressant medications, and an active lifestyle may also be helpful.
The following may help manage misophonia:
- Practicing self-care with rest, relaxation, and meditation to reduce stress.
- Seeking out a supportive healthcare professional.
- Speaking calmly and frankly with friends and loved ones to explain the condition.
If an individual has misophonia that is disruptive to their daily living activities, they should consult a healthcare professional. Susan Smittkamp, Au.D., Ph.D., is a doctoral-level audiologist with Associated Audiologists who specializes in diagnosing and managing tinnitus and sound sensitivity.