Misophonia and sensitivity to noise

Misophonia is a hypersensitivity to certain sounds with generally psychological causes. Currently, it is considered as a pathophysiological state or a symptomatic manifestation of an underlying psychiatric disorder.

What is misophonia?

It can be explained particularly well if you look at the meaning of the word: misophonia comes from the Greek "misos", which means "aversion", and "fonos", which means noise. People can hardly bear certain sounds. Many people feel it when chalk scrapes on the blackboard or when handling polystyrene. These are noises which, due to their intensity, can literally lead to pain, goosebumps and contracted neck muscles. In the case of misophony, the sounds that are perceived as unpleasant can also be very quiet. Noise sensitivity only applies to certain noises and sounds. Typical examples are:

  • Rubbing noises (e.g. on fabric, wood or glass)
  • Repeated clicks
  • Nasal sounds (snoring, hiccups)
  • Oral sounds (munching, nail biting, chewing, swallowing)
  • The cry of children
  • Animal sounds (birds chirping, frogs croaking)
  • The sounds made with body movements (cracking joints)
  • Ambient sounds (cell phone ringtones, clock ticking)

Misophony should not be confused with hyperacusis, a general sensitivity to noise that is not particularly loud. However, this is not about certain sounds, but about the noise level. People with hyperacusis react with great sensitivity to noise at volume levels that other people perceive as completely normal. If noises become painful at normal volume, the ear, nose and throat doctor should always be consulted first.

Those who suffer from misophony can often make this difficult to understand for their fellow human beings. Chewing or sniffing s is simply dismissed and forgotten by others as annoying sounds. The spectrum of feelings for the sufferer ranges from simple displeasure to angry reactions.

Misophonia causes

The cause of misophonia can in some cases be an experience that a person has had in childhood or an extreme situation (trauma) that has experienced. Then the brain connects between the noise and a bad feeling from the experience. The particular hated sound in the person's brain creates a link to an area of ​​the brain, the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), which is responsible for emotional reactions. Smells and positive or negative emotions are a similar, well-known example. In the case of post-traumatic disorders, however, sounds tend to trigger fear and go in the direction of phonophobia (see below).

Physical and psychological symptoms of misophonia

When a noise makes you feel strong negative emotions, it has a direct effect on your body with an accelerated heartbeat, a feeling of heat and sweating. You can even feel chills or goose bumps. The psychological consequences of misophonia can be a feeling of stress, problems of concentration but it can also lead to a feeling of shame and guilt or the feeling of being misunderstood. Some people also feel an anticipatory anxiety: they are afraid that this will happen again.

Misophonia triggers

The aversion to all possible noises that occur when eating is particularly common. However, a simple dislike of chewing noises is not only related to the condition. Our cultural imprint and education according to European table manners makes us intolerant towards chewing. No one in China would mind. In Europe, on the other hand, many people say that very loud chewing noises annoy them. Sometimes the sufferer can no longer distance themself from the anger about the chewing or other eating noises. The anger and disgust at the hated noises take over his whole person.

Misophonia treatment

Misophonia is considered a neurological condition; few treatments exist though otolaryngologists, hearing care professionals, psychologists and psychiatrists are still researching the phenomenon and appropriate therapy. People who experience this condition may use trauma-mediated therapy to create a new link to the disturbing sound. The aversion to the noise does not have to be based on a memorable or traumatic experience. Some noises can be masked or attenuated by hearing protection adapted to snoring or background noise. Otherwise misphonia treatment can therefore only aim to learn to control the flaming feelings. Various relaxation techniques such as:

  • Yoga
  • Autogenic Training 
  • Progressive Muscle Relaxation
  • Thai Chi

It would not be appropriate to use medication for misophonia. Headphones help to isolate yourself from the noises of other people in certain everyday situations. Hypnosis for misophony can also be provided. How good the results are is not scientifically recorded. If your misophonia leads to serious impairments in everyday life, a doctor can be consulted. If a doctor confirms the suspicion of misophonia, he may recommend cognitive behaviour therapy with a behavioral therapist. It is worth taking a closer look at children. As a rule, aggressive rejection of noises is only observed after puberty. Misophonia quickly leads to social conflict in adolescence. The uncertainty caused by the misophonia can be cured if the child understands the malfunction in their brain. Then they can better separate the emotion from the trigger (the cause of the noise) and calm down more easily. A masker, or sound therapy, such as that used in hyperacusis or tinnitus therapy, may also be helpful.

The agreement on the use of standardized diagnostic criteria would constitute an important step forward in terms of clinical practice and scientific investigation. Areas for future research include phenomenology, epidemiology, modulating factors, neurophysiological foundations and treatment trials.

If you suffer from misophonia, explain to those around you:

  • What is misophonia 
  • Which noises irritate you
  • What feelings they trigger in you

It is important to speak openly about this. Because in the worst case a misophonia can develop into phonophobia. This real fear of noise can lead to the avoidance of all situations that could serve as psychological triggers. A strong sensitivity to noise such as eating noises would then cause the person to stop eating with people. In order for misophonia to not develop from a harmless disturbance into a problem, communication is better than ignoring it. It often helps that the condition has a name. Many sufferers of misophonia are reassured by knowing that they are not alone with the problem. Relatives and friends are also more willing to tolerate hypersensitivity when they are more informed.

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