When Certain Sounds Drive You Crazy: Misophonia

I dearly love my four-legged companions and spoil them all the time. But one thing about them has always driven me crazy: I can’t stand licking sounds. The sound of a cat or dog persistently licking its paws sets my teeth on edge and makes my entire body tense.

It seems there is a name for my aversion to this sound: misophonia. The definition of misophonia is “a strong dislike or hatred of specific sounds.” Usually it refers to oral sounds, such as chewing, yawning, slurping, crunching, breathing, licking, nasal sounds, whistling, gum chewing, or lip smacking. However, misophonia may also include reactions to small repetitive movements, such as tapping your fingers on the table or wiggling your foot.

Read about the healing benefits of sound

My reactions to my pets’ licking sounds are considered to be mild. According to WebMD, such responses to what is also known as selective sound sensitivity syndrome (SSSS) include discomfort, anxiety, an urge to flee, and disgust. If I were to have more severe reactions, such sounds might trigger rage, hatred, fear, crawling skin, panic, a desire to kill whatever is producing the sound, and suicidal thoughts. Obviously, any of these reactions could put a significant cramp on your overall quality of life if you were exposed to them on a regular basis.

Read about 10 ways to get rid of anxiety naturally

New study of misophonia

Although misophonia may be new to some people, it is a syndrome that is routinely studied and even has its own group (Misophonia Association) and yearly conferences. Among the research into this syndrome has been a recent study conducted by a group of researchers at Duke University Medical Center. The authors evaluated the impact of certain sounds on 42 people with and without misophonia.

All of the participants were exposed to a variety or sounds, including rain (neutral sound), a crying infant (something that is annoying to a broad spectrum of people), and chewing and breathing noises. The investigators used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to track the brain’s response to all of these options.

Overall, the findings were as follows:

  • People in both groups responded similarly to the neutral and annoying sounds.

  • Participants who were misophonic responded more severely to the breathing and chewing sounds than did individuals in the other group.

  • Individuals with misophonia revealed more activity in their anterior insular cortex (associated with emotional processing) than did those without the condition.

  • Individuals with misophonia showed more connections between the anterior insular cortex and other areas of the brain involved in processing emotions.

  • Skin conductivity and heart rate increased among people with misophonia, a response that is similar to that seen in flight-or-right situations (e.g., when you feel threatened).

The mystery of misophonia
Researchers cannot explain why some people respond so dramatically to specific sounds that have no impact on other individuals. Because the exact causes of misophonia remain a mystery, effective treatments continue to be a challenge. For now, there are no cures for this syndrome, but the good news is there are various treatment choices that can ease the symptoms.

Some of the treatment choices for misophonia include the following, all of which should be discussed with your healthcare provider before you try them:

cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavior therapy, mindfulness, meditation, hypnosis, behavioral management.

Physiological: Consider having your hearing evaluated by a certified audiologist or trying neurobiofeedback, chiropractic adjustment, EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing; helps alleviate distress associated with trauma), GAPS diet (guts and psychology syndrome; avoidance of foods difficult to digest), and alpha stim (use of a cranial electrotherapy stimulation device to treat anxiety and depression).

Lifestyle changes: These suggestions can be especially powerful when combined with other treatment choices. They include: frequent and vigorous exercise, maintaining a healthy diet, keeping a routine sleep schedule, use of sound-protection devices (e.g., earplugs, ambient sound makers, iPods), attendance at support groups, planning social events that don’t include triggers, and family counseling.

Bottom line

If you cringe or respond more vigorously every time someone slurps their coffee or chews their food or your dog visits his water bowl, you may have misophonia. Identifying the problem is the first step; then talk to a professional about how you can best manage your reactions to the sounds that push your buttons.

Image via Sunny Ripert

Kumar S et al. The brain basis for misophonia. Current Biology 2017 Feb 2
Misophonia Association
WebMD. Misophonia

By Deborah Mitchell| March 11, 2017
Categories:  Live

About the Author

Deborah Mitchell

Deborah Mitchell

Deborah is a freelance health writer who is passionate about animals and the environment. She has authored, co-authored, and written more than 50 books and thousands of articles on a wide range of topics. Currently she lives in Tucson, Arizona. Visit her at deborahmitchellbooks.com.

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