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Misophonia and noise sensitivity

What is misophonia?

The word misophonia comes from the Greek word "misos" meaning "aversion" and "fonos" meaning "noise." The term refers to an individual's intolerant response to one or more sounds, regardless of the sound's loudness or acoustic properties. The trigger sounds vary from person to person and may elicit seemingly unjustified reactions such as anger, anxiety, or panic. Examples can include chalk scraping on a blackboard or the sound of handling polystyrene, which can cause physical discomfort.

Hypersensitivity and intolerance to noise

Misophonia can be triggered by sounds that are perceived as unpleasant, even if they are quiet. This sensitivity is specific to certain sounds and noises.

Some examples of trigger sounds include:

  • rubbing noises on surfaces, such as fabric, wood, or glass
  • repeated clicks
  • nasal sounds, such as snoring or hiccups
  • oral sounds, such as munching, nail biting, chewing, or swallowing
  • crying children
  • animal sounds, such as birds chirping or frogs croaking
  • cracking joints
  • cell phone ringtones
  • clock ticking.

What is misophonia caused by?

Misophonia can have its roots in childhood experiences or past traumatic events, where the brain links certain sounds with negative emotions. This particular aversion to sounds creates a connection in the brain's anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), which is responsible for emotional reactions. This phenomenon is similar to the way smells can evoke positive or negative emotions. In cases of post-traumatic disorders, sounds may trigger fear and lead to phonophobia (see below).

What are the symptoms of misophonia?

Experiencing strong negative emotions in response to a sound can have a direct physical effect on the body, such as an accelerated heartbeat, sweating, or a feeling of heat. In some cases, this response can even lead to chills or goosebumps. The psychological impact of misophonia can include feelings of stress, difficulties with concentration, as well as shame, guilt, or a sense of being misunderstood. Additionally, some individuals may experience anticipatory anxiety, fearing that the trigger sound may occur again.

Common misophonia triggers

The aversion to eating noises is a common trigger for misophonia. However, simply disliking chewing noises is not always related to the condition, as cultural differences can influence tolerance levels. For example, in China, chewing noises are often accepted, whereas in Europe, many people find loud chewing noises annoying.

In severe cases of misophonia, the individual may experience a strong emotional reaction towards a trigger sound. The anger and disgust that arises can be so intense that it affects the individual's ability to focus on anything else. This level of emotional and physical distress can lead to significant disruptions in their daily life.

Misophonia treatment

Misophonia is a neurological condition that is currently being researched by otolaryngologists, hearing care professionals, psychologists, and psychiatrists in order to develop appropriate therapies. Trauma-mediated therapy can be used to create a new connection to the disturbing sound. However, it's not always necessary as the aversion is not always based on a traumatic experience.

While medication is not an appropriate treatement for dealing with misophonia, hearing protection can help mask or weaken unwanted noises. Individuals can use headphones to isolate themselves from triggering noises in certain everyday situations. In addition, relaxation techniques, such as yoga, autogenic training, progressive muscle relaxation, and Thai Chi, can help control the overwhelming feelings that misophonia can cause. Hypnosis can also be used to treat misophonia, though the effectiveness of this treatment is not scientifically recorded.

If misophonia significantly impairs everyday life, a doctor may recommend cognitive behaviour therapy with a behavioural therapist. It is particularly important to pay attention to children who exhibit misophonia symptoms. Aggressive rejection of noises is typically only observed after puberty, and misophonia can quickly lead to social conflict in adolescence. In such cases, sound therapy, such as that used in hyperacusis or tinnitus therapy, may be helpful.

Establishing standardised diagnostic criteria is crucial for improving clinical practice and scientific investigation of misophonia. Further research is needed to explore various aspects of this condition, including its phenomenology, epidemiology, modulating factors, neurophysiological basis, and treatment options.

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Have your hearing tested

Regular hearing health checks can also help detect hearing loss early on and prevent it from getting worse over time. Visit the Amplifon clinic nearest to you for a thorough hearing evaluation and learn more about the best ways to protect your hearing.

Difference with hyperacusis

Misophonia is often mistaken for hyperacusis, which is characterized by a general sensitivity to noise, even at moderate levels. Unlike misophonia, hyperacusis is not specific to certain sounds, but rather to the intensity of noise. Individuals with hyperacusis may experience discomfort or pain at noise levels that most people would find tolerable. If you are experiencing pain or discomfort from noise at normal volume levels, it is best to consult an ear, nose, and throat doctor for proper diagnosis and treatment.

Be open about misophonia

To manage misophonia, it's important to communicate your condition to those around you. Let them know what misophonia is, which specific noises bother you, and how they make you feel. Ignoring the problem can lead to phonophobia, a fear of noise that can cause you to avoid situations that trigger your sensitivity to noise, such as eating in public. By speaking openly about misophonia, you can prevent it from becoming a bigger problem. Acknowledging your condition and being open to discussing it can help others understand and tolerate your hypersensitivity.

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