What is Misophonia?
About the Disorder, What Can Help, and More
Pretty much everyone has sounds they dislike. Fingernails on chalkboard may be a cliché example, but pretty much everyone has the urge to cringe and get away from that particular screech.
But what if normal everyday sounds produced almost the exact same reaction?
Misophonia, also sometimes called selective sound sensitivity syndrome, is a disorder where specific sounds can trigger intense negative emotions. The exact sounds and the emotions they cause can vary from person to person, but if you feel like you have abnormally strong reactions to certain sounds, and the reactions are consistent, you may be dealing with Misophonia.
What Is Misophonia Disorder?
Misophonia Disorder is characterized by having emotional, usually very negative, reactions to specific sounds that are consistent and often get in the way of regular day to day activities.
Misophonia’s meaning is literally hatred of sound, and the symptoms associated with trigger sounds can be pretty disruptive.
Having Misophonia has different impacts on different people. If you have a relatively mild case of Misophonia it probably impacts your life a lot less than people who have a more severe case. But even relatively mild Misophonia can be a big problem if there are a lot of noises that trigger your symptoms, especially if they are common noises.
Misophonia sufferers often note that oral noises, like chewing and smacking of lips, are particularly troublesome.
Even the sound of loud or heavy breathing can be a potential trigger for Misophonia. Yes, even your own breathing can trigger Misophonia.
Of course, oral sounds aren't the only possible triggers for Misophonia. Other sounds, particularly repetitive sounds, can also be highly distressing for people with Misophonia.
The sounds themselves aren’t the only possible triggers for individuals with Misophonia either. Visual indicators of a troublesome sound can also cause an intense emotional reaction. For instance, someone with Misophonia who struggles with the noise of finger tapping could have a similar reaction to just seeing someone tapping their fingers, even if they can't hear the noise.
Misophonia symptoms can be especially difficult for people in terms of their social and work lives. Even individuals who can craft their home life around avoiding the triggering sounds, which is not always possible, usually have to deal with the condition in their social and work lives.
Since fear, the need to flee the sound, panic attacks, and intense anger can all be reactions to trigger sounds Misophonia can be incredibly difficult to manage and plan around.
Mild Misophonia Symptoms usually include:
- Trying to avoid or actively get away from the sound
More extreme symptoms include:
- Anger (including more extreme Rage reactions)
- Various states of extreme emotional distress.
Symptoms may fade rapidly after individuals can get away from the triggering sound, but the symptoms can also be enduring for quite a while after the triggering sound is gone.
What Causes Misophonia?
The exact cause of Misophonia, like many disorders, isn’t clear. Doctors are fairly certain that the problem is not in your ears, so you’re not necessarily having mechanical problems with your hearing. However, most doctors do agree that the disorder is likely part mental and part physical in nature.
Misophonia is slightly more common in girls and women, and typical onset is around 9-13 years old.
The disorder is characterized by sounds causing a very specific reaction in your brain and body, but the exact mechanism those sounds cause those reactions is uncertain. Some theories suggest that Misophonia might be a common reaction to other auditory processing disorders that make it harder to process out repetitive noises, which could help explain why it’s repetitive noises like finger tapping, chewing, and leg shaking are common Misophonia triggers.
One notable trend in Misophonia is that it does seem to come along with other disorders. Developmental and mental disorders are particularly common comorbid disorders with Misophonia, but it is entirely possible to have Misophonia without having a comorbid mental or developmental disorder. Misophonia and anxiety is a particularly common combination, though whether they are interrelated is less clear.
Interestingly Misophonia and ASMR may be related. People who experience Misophonia often also experience the tingling sensation caused by ASMR, which could mean that both the unpleasant sensations of Misophonia and the pleasurable sensations of ASMR are related.
Unfortunately, many doctors aren't familiar with Misophonia, including many doctors who don't know anything about the disorder at all. That can cause delays in diagnosis and make it harder to find out what's going on when symptoms begin.
Misdiagnosis is also, unfortunately, common.
Misophonia can sometimes be mistaken for bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders, and even OCD because of the extreme reactions that the condition causes.
Can Misophonia Be Treated?
There are a lot of possible Misophonia treatments, and the different kinds of treatment largely depend on the severity of the condition and how much it impacts your day to day life.
Doctors use a range of different Misophonia treatments to help control symptoms. One device that can be useful for Misophonia sufferers is something like a hearing aid that plays white noise in your ear instead of increasing the volume of surrounding sounds.
Earplugs can also be a useful tool in general, especially in situations that are known to be triggering for you. Eargasm High Fidelity Earplugs can offer better performance compared with cheaper generic earplugs for individuals with Misophonia, and we also offer smaller earplugs, like our Smaller Ears Earplugs or Slide Earplugs, that may be more comfortable for people who have struggled with earplugs being uncomfortable or large feeling in the past.
That way you’re less likely to hear triggering noises, especially if your triggering noises are usually relatively quiet.
Sound therapy can also be used to help reduce reactivity and help people with Misophonia deal with their trigger sounds without as extreme of a reaction over time.
Supportive counseling that helps patients develop coping mechanisms and talk therapy can also be helpful for learning how to deal with the symptoms of Misophonia and overcoming more disruptive triggers and symptoms.
Like most disorders, you can also improve your symptoms with some lifestyle changes. The big thing is managing stress and minimizing lifestyle risk factors that can make triggers more likely and can make your reaction to misophonia triggers more extreme.
Getting plenty of sleep and minimizing and controlling your daily stress can be incredibly important for people with Misophonia.
It’s also important to make sure you have people around you who understand the disorder and its effect on you.
Of course, people around you may not be able to completely understand the disorder and all of the problems it can cause. It’s also important to reach out to other people who also have Misophonia to get emotional support, tips on how to manage the disorder, and just to have friendly people who understand what you’re going through better than someone without the disorder could.
The Misophonia Foundation does have conferences and other in-person events where you can learn more about the disorder, network with professionals and other people dealing with the condition.
They also have some regional Misophonia support groups that can help you develop an in-person support network closer to your home than the conferences.
The Good News About Misophonia
While Misophonia is still a disorder that’s not very well known or recognized, there is some good news. Awareness of the disorder is increasing, and more and more doctors are paying attention to the disorder and its treatment. That means that treatment is getting easier to find, easier to find locally, and more accessible to wider groups of people.
It also means that we may have a better understanding of the reasons behind Misophonia, and more public awareness in the not too distant future.