If you had to name some of your favorite sounds, what would they be? For many kids, the ringing of the bell at the end of the school day is sweet music to their ears. How about the chirping of birds on the first warm day of spring? Perhaps your favorite song pumping through your headphones?
If you're like most people, these and many other sounds might send chills down your spine or make you cover your ears with your hands to block them out. For some people, though, sensitivity to particular sounds hits an entirely different level.
Consider what life would be like if hearing someone chew their food sent you into a panic. What if hearing someone breathing made you extremely angry? These might seem like far-fetched scenarios, but they're real examples of what life is like for people with misophonia.
Misophonia, also known as selective sound sensitivity syndrome, is a condition characterized by an intense aversion to particular sounds. In fact, the word "misophonia" literally means "hatred of sound."
Scientists don't know what causes misophonia. They suspect it's a neurological condition with both physical and mental components, since it appears to be related to how the brain processes certain sounds that can trigger automatic physical responses. Although people have suffered from misophonia for many years, it was not recognized as a specific medical condition until the 1990s.
Misophonia often starts between the ages of 9 and 13, and it occurs more frequently in girls than boys. It can be hard to diagnose, since its symptoms can be mistaken for anxiety, bipolar disorder, or obsessive-compulsive disorder.
People with misophonia have a variety of trigger sounds. These often include oral sounds, such as chewing, eating, breathing, yawning, coughing, sneezing, or whistling. Other trigger sounds can include repetitive sounds, like a dripping faucet, pencil tapping, or pen clicking.
Over time, visual cues can begin to act like triggers. For example, someone with misophonia might begin to respond to seeing someone about to take a bite of food before any sound is actually made.
Misophonia reactions to trigger sounds or visuals can take a wide variety of forms. Mild reactions might include anxiety, discomfort, disgust, or a desire to move away from the source of the sound. More severe reactions might include feelings of fear, panic, anger, hatred, and rage. The most serious reactions might involve thoughts of self-harm or a desire to attack the source of the sound.
People who suffer from misophonia encounter all sorts of troubles on a daily basis. The condition often leads people to avoid others and isolate themselves.
Unfortunately, there's no cure for misophonia. However, scientists have started to develop treatments to help manage the condition. These treatments might include sound therapy and psychological counseling at special misophonia clinics, hearing aids that create distracting noises, and medications, such as antidepressants.