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The term “misophonia” literally means hatred of sounds.  A recently identified disorder of the auditory central nervous system, individuals with misophonia experience extreme sensitivity to sounds that most of us naturally filter1.

Unfortunately for these individuals, harmless sounds can feel not only painful, but can evoke reactions such as anger and disgust.  These sounds are sometimes called “trigger noises,” because they evoke a response by the nervous system2, and the response is not initially mediated by cognition

Some researchers suggest that it is a reflexive response, and even suggest treating it as an aversive reflex disorder3.  Others believe it is best treated with a combination of auditory retraining therapies1 designed to help patients habituate to innocuous sound and cognitive behavioral therapy, to help patients cope (through revising unhelpful thinking, teaching self-calming strategies, and helping them to practicing new behaviors that might help)4.  Others point to the lack of sufficient research on the etiology, diagnosis, and treatment of misophonia; they urge further research and caution against being too firm in our conclusions 5,6.

If you are a parent whose child has recently developed this condition, you might not know what is going on with your child.  You might mistakenly think that they are looking for attention, or that they are misbehaving. 

In addition, because this condition is relatively new, and because it isn’t routinely diagnosed or treated, your pediatrician might not know about it yet.  There is a suggestion that they will know about it soon; a recent study of 483 undergraduate students found that 20% of the sample report clinically significant misophonia symptoms7.

If your child is sound sensitive, they should certainly receive a medical evaluation to rule out medical causes of their sound sensitivity.  But if all else is looking normal, parents should consider taking their child to visit a specialist (such as an audiologist or neurologist who specializes in this condition).

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Here are 7 warning signs that your child might have misophonia:

  1. Your child shows extreme sensitivity to specific types of sounds.  These sounds can include lip smacking, chewing, sniffing, breathing, snoring, typing, pen clicking 1,2,3,7.
  2. When your child is exposed to a sound which elicits this automatic reaction, he or she has a clear physical response.  This response is beyond his or her self-control, indicating pain, pressure, and/or discomfort.  Accompanying emotional responses tend to include disgust, anger, and irritability.
  3. Your child tries to escape if he or she witnesses someone making the triggering sound.  For example, he or she may run from a room where someone is chewing.
  4. Your child takes steps in advance to avoid the triggering sounds.  For example, he or she may scan for people who are chewing, avoid restaurants/movie theatres where others may be chewing, avoid certain people, and avoid other situations where the trigger might arise.  He or she may avoid mealtime, and misophonia has been associated with eating disorders 8.
  5. While not always the case, it has been noted that some children don’t react when they produce the same trigger2.  As such, your child may mimic the trigger noise in an attempt to lessen their own painful response to it.
  6. His or her reactions seem to worsen over time, and while they may begin to include extreme disgust and anger when triggered, they can evolve into panic responses when escape or avoidance of triggering noises is not an option.  In addition, your child may develop misokinesias (hatred of physical movements made by others), especially when these movements accompany the triggering sound (seeing someone chewing can become as aversive as hearing someone chewing).
  7. His or her reactions can impair your child’s ability to function in school, with family, with friends, and in general social circumstances.

While information on etiology, diagnostic evaluation, and proper treatment continues to emerge, parents can look forward to learning more.  Please visit my blog interviewing Jeffrey Gould on his creation of the film Quiet Please, due for upcoming release.

References

  1. Jastreboff, Pawel J.View Profile. In Textbook of tinnitus, by Møller, Aage R. (Ed); Langguth, Berthold (Ed); De Ridder, Dirk (Ed); Kleinjung, Tobias (Ed),  575-596. New York, NY, US:Springer Science + Business Media, 2011.
  2. Edelstein, M., Brang, D., Rouw, R., & Ramachandran, V. S. (2013). Misophonia: Physiological investigations and case descriptions. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 7, 296. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.3389/fnhum.2013.00296
  3. Dozier, T. H. (2015). Treating the initial physical reflex of misophonia with the neural repatterning technique: A counterconditioning procedure. Psychological Thought, 8(2), 189-210. Retrieved from http://origin-search.proquest.com/docview/1725004867?accountid=34899
  4. Neuropsychiatric disease and treatment; researchers from birmingham children's hospital NHS trust report new studies and findings in the area of neuropsychiatric disease and treatment (misophonia: Current perspectives). (2015). Psychology & Psychiatry Journal, 46. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/1709220760?accountid=34899
  5. Cavanna, A. E. (2014). What is misophonia and how can we treat it? Expert Review of Neurotherapeutics, 14(4), 357-9. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1586/14737175.2014.892418
  6. Johnson, P. L., Webber, T. A., Wu, M. S., Lewin, A. B., Murphy, T. K., & Storch, E. A. (2013). When selective audiovisual stimuli become unbearable: A case series on pediatric misophonia. Neuropsychiatry, 3(6), 569-575. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.2217/npy.13.70
  7. Wu, M. A. (2014). Misophonia: Incidence, Phenomenology, and Clinical Correlates in an Undergraduate Student Sample. Journal Of Clinical Psychology, 70(10), 994-1007.
  8. Kluckow, H. S. (2014). Should we screen for misophonia in patients with eating disorders? A report of three cases. International Journal Of Eating Disorders, 47(5), 558-561.

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