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Overreaction to Sounds

Misophonia is when you respond strongly to certain noises that others might not notice. On the mild end, even quiet sounds may easily bother you. In more serious cases, hearing people chew, cough, sneeze, and do other normal things can disgust or anger you and make you want to flee.

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Is Your Brother to Blame?

Possibly! Many people with misophonia react to sounds only from a specific person. So your mother humming to herself or a cubicle co-worker chowing down at lunch may regularly send you into a rage.

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Possible Causes

Misophonia often happens along with conditions like obsessive compulsive disorder, anxiety problems, or Tourette's syndrome. Experts aren’t sure if these mental or neurological disorders might be the underlying culprits of misophonia. But they do  suspect at least some connection.

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What It’s Not

It’s normal if a dentist drill, a baby’s wail, or a loud scream startles or annoys you. But if you have misophonia -- a word with roots in Greek for “hatred” -- even ordinary sounds can trigger strong reactions. Things like whirring air conditioners, ticking clocks, and mobile phones chirping and dinging.

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Learned Behavior?

Your misophonia might have cropped up for the first time when, say, you were anxious and suddenly noticed the sound of your spouse chewing. If mealtimes are tense in your house, your brain might link it to the obnoxious (at least to you) chomping. Over time, you may start to feel anxious whenever you hear someone chewing innocently.

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A Physical Explanation?

People with misophonia often have more myelin, a fatty insulating cover, on nerve cells in their brain. And “trigger sounds” cause more activity in parts of their brain linked to emotion like fear, as well as to long-term memories. But scientists don’t know for sure if these physical signs are a cause of misophonia or happen because of it.

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An Avalanche

Once your body sets up one misophonic response, it tends to expand. So what may start out as an occasional disgust at your Aunt Julie’s quiet lip smacking at Sunday dinners might grow to include lip smacking by anyone, anywhere, anytime. After a while, a bunch of other noises like throat clearing, finger tapping, and even breathing might distress, irritate, or pain you.

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Diagnosis

There’s no official group of symptoms, but your doctor will likely look for some key signs:

  • You’re highly sensitive to specific sounds or even the thought of them.
  • The sound irritates, scares, or angers you, perhaps causing you to yell or lash out.
  • You actively avoid certain sounds.
  • Your response disrupts your work, school, family, or social life.
  • Another psychiatric disorder doesn’t better explain your symptoms.
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Treatment

There’s no cure or proven therapies. But some approaches show promise. Certain talk therapies can help you step back from your response and try to understand it. Some expose you to the trigger sound in small amounts to help you get used to it and manage it. A doctor or therapist may be able to help guide you through your treatment options to find one that works best for you.

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Sources | Medically Reviewed on 02/22/2019 Reviewed by Neil Lava, MD on February 22, 2019

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SOURCES:

Frontiers In Psychology: “Misophonia and Potential Underlying Mechanisms: A Perspective.”

Harvard Health Publishing: “Misophonia: When sounds really do make you “crazy.”

Hear-It.org: “Misophonia.”

International OCD Foundation: “Like Nails on a Chalkboard: A Misophonia Overview.”

Medical Hypotheses: “Misophonia: A new mental disorder?”

Misophonia Institute: “What is Misophonia?” “Diagnosing Misophonia,” “Misophonia Triggers.”

PLoS One: “Misophonia: Diagnostic Criteria for a New Psychiatric Disorder.”

Reviewed by Neil Lava, MD on February 22, 2019

This tool does not provide medical advice. See additional information.

THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and should not be relied on to make decisions about your health. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the WebMD Site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.