What is misophonia?
The word “misophonia” literally means “hate of sound.” In psychology, the definition of “misophonia” is a severe or extreme reaction to common noises, like the sound of another person chewing or yawning.
In a typical person, hearing someone else chewing food may trigger annoyance or disgust, but a person with misophonia may experience a fight-or-flight response to sounds like this. In extreme cases, people with misophonia may lash out and become aggressive.
The cause of misophonia is not known. Some research into this little-known condition indicates that people with misophonia experience higher levels of activity in the parts of the brain responsible for memories and emotional responses when their condition is triggered by specific sounds.
Few statistics are available regarding how common misophonia is, who it affects, or what risk factors predispose a person to developing it. Some research links both obsessive-compulsive disorder and autism to misophonia, but these links require much more investigation before they can be fully established. Misophonia is not currently listed as a psychiatric diagnosis in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).
Anyone who experiences an extreme reaction to specific sounds should seek the help of a mental health professional. Misophonia and any underlying conditions may be treatable.
What are the symptoms of misophonia?
A complete list of misophonia symptoms has not yet been developed through research. The following list may not include every symptom a person with misophonia might experience.
Common symptoms of misophonia
Common misophonia symptoms include:
- Avoidance of places or situations (such as restaurants) that trigger misophonia
- Chest tightness or pressure
- Elevated heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing
- Fear of socializing due to the potential of being triggered
- Fight-or-flight response to trigger sounds, such as chewing
- Increased body temperature
- Sweating and other signs of physical stress
- Verbal aggression, such as shouting at the “offending” person to stop making noise
A less common symptom of misophonia is physical aggression. This can range from mildly swatting at the person making the trigger sound to physically attacking the other person to make them stop. This type of extreme response appears to be very rare.
Any person who experiences chest tightness or pressure along with other signs of heart attack, such as fainting or difficulty breathing, should seek emergency medical attention by dialing 911. Never assume a person experiencing chest pain is simply exhibiting signs of misophonia.
What causes misophonia?
Researchers do not yet know what causes misophonia. The condition appears to share some characteristics in common with those of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and autism, but that does not mean these conditions cause misophonia or vice versa. Much more research into misophonia is required in order to pinpoint the exact causes of the condition.
What are the risk factors for misophonia?
Risk factors for developing misophonia are unknown. It is possible–but far from certain–that the following factors may contribute to a risk of developing misophonia:
- Anxiety or anxious personality
- Hearing impairment
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder
- Other sensory processing disorders
Reducing your risk of misophonia
You may be able to lower your risk of misophonia by seeking prompt behavioral healthcare for any distressing mental health symptoms, including anxiety, depression, anger management, OCD, autism, or any other behavioral condition.
Seeking prompt care for mental health conditions can lead to earlier treatment, which may not only relieve your current symptoms but prevent the condition from progressing.
How do doctors diagnose misophonia?
Because misophonia is not listed in the DSM-5, doctors cannot formally diagnose the conditions. However, to determine whether or not you have misophonia, a behavioral health expert may ask you a series of questions about your physical and emotional responses to various trigger sounds.
These questions might include:
- Which sounds, specifically, trigger your negative responses?
- How do you feel when you hear a trigger sound?
- What physical symptoms do you experience whenever you hear a trigger sound?
- Have you ever shouted or screamed at someone for making a trigger sound?
Your doctor may also evaluate your overall mental health to determine whether or not you have a different behavioral health condition, such as anxiety, depression, OCD, an autism spectrum disorder, or some other condition that could cause similar symptoms to misophonia.
What are the treatments for misophonia?
No treatments specifically for misophonia exist yet, but that doesn’t mean the condition doesn’t respond to certain interventions. For example, your behavioral health provider may recommend cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to treat symptoms of misophonia. Or, your condition may respond well to anti-anxiety medications. Your mental health provider will develop a personalized treatment plan for you that is tailored to your unique condition.
What are the potential complications of misophonia?
If not addressed, misophonia can cause significant lifestyle complications that include:
- Feelings of acute distress
- Social isolation
Because misophonia causes a “fight-or-flight” response, it’s possible that untreated misophonia could lead to chronic systemic stress levels that ultimately contribute to heart disease.