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Misophonia

What Is Misophonia?

Reviewed by Psychology Today Staff

Misophonia is an extreme emotional and physical response to seemingly innocuous, repetitive sounds like chewing, lip-smacking, and even breathing. Translated from Greek as “hatred of sounds,” people with the condition experience a fight-or-flight response to these noises, along with physical tension, disproportionate anger, and hatred or disgust toward the person responsible for the triggering noise. Even noises made by pets can be provoking; also, sometimes just seeing a reminder of the sound can be just as upsetting as the sound itself. Other emotional reactions that accompany misophonia are rage, anxiety, panic, fear, irritation, and distress.

The Mysteries of Misophonia

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Misophonia has only recently gained traction as an area of study, and many aspects of the condition remain a mystery. While the exact prevalence is unknown, one study revealed that one in six people have experienced misophonia. Symptoms typically begin in childhood or adolescence and increase in severity, but the condition can also emerge later in life.

What causes misophonia?

The causes of misophonia are still unclear, but fMRI studies suggest the disorder is associated with overactive brain connections between auditory pathways and regions responsible for regulating emotions. Onset of symptoms can start between ages 9 and 13. Researchers have found that areas in the brain, known for fear and long-term memory, are activated in sufferers when hearing such triggering sounds. The sounds normally have a specific pattern and context for the person who suffers.

Is misophonia a disorder?

While misophonia meets many of the criteria to be classified as a mental disorder, the nature of it remains unclear. It instead is related to obsessive-compulsive disorder, with 52 percent of sufferers meet the criteria for OCD. In addition, women are more likely to suffer from it when compared with men; men still suffer, but it is more severe in women. However, more research is required about this and other sensory intolerance afflictions.

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Living with Misophonia

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People with misophonia can recognize that their reactions are excessive or unwarranted, and that realization can lead to further distress. People with misophonia often try to cope with the disorder by avoiding the triggering sounds that bother them. They may remove themselves from situations like family meals or work cafeterias, wear headphones in public spaces, or isolate themselves to avoid distressing noises altogether.

Can misophonia disrupt daily functioning?

The emotional and physical consequences—coupled with the anticipation of, and strategies to, avoid triggers—can disrupt a person’s daily functioning. Problems with work and relationships arise when coping mechanisms become untenable, for example, sufferers may cut class or just up and quit a job.

Why does my loved one react so harshly when she hears certain noises?

If your loved one cannot avoid a troubling noise, they may become confrontational by demanding that the offender stop making the noise. Noises can feel especially upsetting when they come from family, friends, or coworkers.

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