Misophonia is a condition that can cause extreme emotional or physiological reactions to certain noises, like chewing or breathing, or actions, such as clicking a pen or someone jiggling their foot
What is misophonia?
Also known as Selective Sound Sensitivity Syndrome, nearly one in five people suffer from misophonia. It can often lead to extreme reactions such as anger or disgust, and sometimes even give someone the urge to hurt the person making the noise or make them leave a situation.
People who have the disorder can feel uncomfortable, anxious, angry and emotionally distressed when they hear or see these triggers and it can lead to them avoiding certain situations.
Misophonia doesn’t mean there is a problem with someone’s ears or hearing though, and researchers suggest that it could be caused by an oversensitivity to certain sounds in the brain.1
These ‘trigger’ sounds are often made by other people and are usually focused on the mouth, throat or facial movements. Those who have the condition are often unable to tolerate family members, work, public and social situations.
Symptoms of misophonia
The main symptoms of misophonia tend to be anger and/or anxiety. Some might also find themselves feeling frustrated at the sounds they can hear. In some people, the response to certain sounds causes a rush of adrenaline and a ‘fight or flight’ response which is overwhelming and disproportionate to the situation they’re in.
This rapid and intense response can leave you feeling shaky, stressed and even lead to a rapid heartbeat and sweating.
What causes misophonia?
In May 2021 new research showed an unusual link between the brain and ears in cases of misophonia. The researchers discovered that there was an abnormal communication between the auditory and motor brain regions in people with misophonia. You could describe it as a ‘supersensitised connection’. This is the first time such a connection in the brain has been identified.1
Other research has shown that people with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), anxiety, Tourette’s syndrome and tinnitus can be more susceptible to developing misophonia. The vast majority of people with misophonia develop it as a child or teenager and, quite often, as they get older the types of sounds, or people who make them, grow in number and variety.
Mental health and misophonia
Misophonia is not an ear condition, but it is linked to a disruption in the way the auditory cortex (the area that sorts out sounds), the autonomic nervous system (the area that takes care of fight or flight response) and the limbic system (that looks after our emotions) work together.
As such, misophonia can be linked to, and have an impact on, mental health. Certainly the way it makes people feel can trigger other mental health concerns.
How is misophonia diagnosed?
While there is no specific test for misophonia, the symptoms that a person exhibits – although similar to other conditions like OCD and anxiety – are specific to misophonia in that they are linked to an intense intolerance to specific sounds and actions. It’s this link between sounds and reaction that needs to be established for misophonia to be diagnosed.
Your health practitioner will examine your mental health history and discuss which sounds tend to trigger intense emotions and what those emotions are. They will also look into whether you avoid certain situations (and why) and how your misophonia is managed when it occurs.
Misophonia is a difficult condition for the sufferer and also those around them. While there are no medications that help with misophonia, there are some that can help control the anxiety and severe anger that links to it.
Gordon Harrison, Specsavers chief audiologist, says: ‘Misophonia can have a big impact on someone’s life depending on the severity of their reactions, but there are things people can do to help.
‘Methods include sound therapy, counselling and cognitive behavioural therapy. Some people also find wearing headphones or earplugs helpful. Stress management techniques such as regular exercise and getting enough sleep can also help.’
The British Tinnitus Association also offers some helpful tips on how to manage misophonia.
Specsavers research into misophonia
Our survey* found that almost half of people we asked (42%) have a work colleague or friend who has annoyed them by making a sound whenever they are with them.
A quarter of people asked hated the sound of people clicking their joints and almost a third said the sound they hate the most is people chewing. One in five get irritated by the sound of someone humming tunelessly and one in 10 cannot stand the sound of someone clicking their pen or whistling.
- Car alarms that won’t turn off (45%)
- Nails down a blackboard (41%)
- Snoring (38%)
- Dentist’s drill (37%)
- Arguing (36%)
- Music you hate (34%)
- Other people chewing (31%)
- Drilling (30%)
- Knife scraping on crockery (29%)
- A fire alarm (27%)
- People clicking their joints (25%)
- A motorbike racing by / Air horns (24%)
- A baby crying/ hearing a party through the wall (23%)
- Someone else’s music playing through their headphones
- A cat coughing up a fur-ball/ the alarm clock in the morning (20%)
- A chainsaw/ someone humming tunelessly (19%)
- A police siren (17%)
- A traffic jam (16%)
- Knife on a bottle/ fireworks (12%)
- Your children shouting/ clicking a pen/ an unexpected knock on the door (10%)
- Hitting a rock with a spade while digging/ whistling/ foxes at night (9%)