Misophonia: When You Can’t Stand Certain Noises

Imagine this. You are reading your favorite book, while someone is eating food beside you. The sound of their loud chewing is distracting. You try to shrug it off at first and focus on your book, but that becomes increasingly difficult as your skin begins to crawl with each bite they take. You can now feel the sound of each morsel being crushed between their teeth seeping through your body. You can’t ignore it anymore and want to scream at them.

Have you ever experienced something similar? Are you someone who gets easily annoyed by simple everyday sounds such as loud chewing, annoying mouth noises, sniffing, or snoring? These are features of a condition known as misophonia

What is misophonia?

Misophonia is described as an intense dislike or hatred of specific sounds. Also known as selective sound sensitivity syndrome, the name “misophonia” comes from the Greek word for “hatred of sound.”

This phenomenon can be triggered by noises like chewing, pen tapping, sniffling, snoring, or scratching, leading to extreme annoyance, and sometimes, even overpowering frustration. Other adverse sounds include keyboard or finger tapping or the sound of windshield wipers. Sometimes a small repetitive motion, such as someone fidgeting, jostling you, or wiggling their foot, can also be the cause.


While it's normal to feel annoyed by loud noises, for people living with misophonia, some sounds are more than just a turn-off. Certain noises can be downright unbearable for them and interfere with their ability to live a normal life. In fact, some triggers may discomfort misophoniacs to the point where they start avoiding particular people and situations.

Related: Why Are Your Ears Ringing? The Causes Explained

People who have misophonia often feel embarrassed and are reluctant to discuss it with others. Specific criteria for diagnosing misophonia have yet to be agreed upon by experts. They do, however, recognize it as a real issue with serious implications for mental health and well-being.

Misophonia was only recently identified as a disorder, with the term first used in the year 2000.

Symptoms of misophonia

annoying sounds

Misophonia affects approximately 20% of all people to some degree. Its symptoms revolve around how you react to trigger sounds. All of the reactions appear to be driven by natural "fight-or-flight" instincts. As a result, the following reactions are possible:

* Emotional distress

* Anger, rage, or disgust

* Feelings of annoyance or irritation

* Nervousness or uneasiness

* A feeling of anxiety or panic

* Increased heart rate, blood pressure, and temperature

* Chest discomfort or tightness throughout the body

Coping with the symptoms of the disorder can be tough. When symptoms are mild, you may only notice emotional and physical reactions. Studies show that a severe case of symptoms may result in behavioral responses as well, such as:

* Leaving the area when a trigger sound is heard.

* Yelling at the person who made the noise.

* Staying away from situations where trigger sounds might occur.

* Becoming physically aggressive with objects as a result of the noise.

People suffering from misophonia may become stressed and ill at ease simply by thinking about encountering sounds that trigger their condition. In short, misophonia can cause significant disruption in a person’s daily life.

Most common triggers of misophonia

Any sound can trigger misophonia, which can differ from person to person. It is important to note that misophonia may begin as a reaction to one specific sound, but may eventually be triggered by other sounds.

loud eating

The following were identified as the most common misophonia triggers by researchers in Amsterdam.

* Eating sounds, such as chomping, crunching, slurping, or swallowing.

* Loud breathing or nose sounds such as snoring, sniffling, or nose blowing.

* Finger or hand sounds such as tapping fingers or toes, clicking a pen, loud typing, or eating utensil sounds.

Other triggers may include:

* Throat clearing

* Coughing

* Loud kissing

* Clocks ticking

* Pen clicking

* Bell ringing

* Animal sounds (dogs barking or crows cawing)

* Rustling of papers or fabric

* Glasses or silverware clinking

Researchers have found that misophoniacs may also be triggered by the sight of someone repeating certain physical actions, such as shaking their knees, rubbing their nose, or chewing with an open mouth

What causes misophonia?

anxiety over sound

Unfortunately, researchers don’t know what causes misophonia. They do, however, note that the condition seems to appear more commonly in people who also have anxiety disorders, tinnitus, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and Tourette syndrome.

Misophonia can occur at any age, but research indicates that it is most common in late childhood or early teen years. According to studies, misophonia has a few other distinguishing features, including:

* It often runs in families.

* Women typically report more serious symptoms.

* Often, the initial trigger comes from a parent or family member, but new triggers can emerge over time.

Experts say that for years, people with misophonia were misdiagnosed with anxiety, phobias, and other mental health conditions. If your ears are normal and your hearing is fine, doctors may find it difficult to diagnose your misophonia.

Related: 6 Health Symptoms Your Ears Want You to Be Aware Of

Misophonia’s brain science 

brain scans

A breakthrough study by a British-based research team found that misophonia is a brain-based disorder. They report disruption of connectivity in areas of the brain responsible for processing both sound stimulation and the fight/flight response. As a result of this irregular connection, there is an increase in activity in specific parts of your brain, which triggers an intense emotional reaction.

Researchers have discovered that when people with misophonia hear a triggering sound, the anterior insular cortex is activated - the part of the brain that processes emotions and signals generated within the body. They specifically reported that the brain regions responsible for long-term memories, fear, and other emotions were activated.

There was also a study published in The Journal of Neuroscience in 2021 that suggested that when misophonics hear a triggering noise, there is an increase in activity in the part of the brain that controls the movement of our mouths and faces. According to the study's authors, this could mean that the misophonic reaction is distressing because it causes a reflex reaction in the facial muscles, making you feel out of control.

Is there a cure for misophonia? How can we cope with it?

Sadly, there’s no cure at the moment for misophonia. That doesn’t mean, though, that you can’t learn to manage it.

noise-cancelling headphones

It is common for misophonics to avoid situations where they are likely to encounter their triggers, such as social gatherings. However, this may not be possible every time. Experts recommend a few other go-to coping techniques, including:

* Listening to something to divert your brain's attention away from listening for a trigger sound. You may also use a hearing aid that creates a sound in your ear similar to a waterfall.

* Using noise-canceling headphones to drown out the offending sounds.

* Using a noise generator for sounds like white, pink, or brown noise.

* Using foam earplugs to block out the trigger noises.

* Trying to relax your muscles can also help. For this, you may listen to some calming music or try and meditate.

* Relaxation and conditioning therapy combined with sound therapy by audiologists is said to have a significant effect on reducing the symptoms of misophonia.

Living with misophonia is undoubtedly a challenge, but you can definitely learn to manage it.

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