What Is Misophonia?

Do nails on a chalkboard make you cringe? Imagine if a sound could make you panic or fly into a rage.

This is the case with misophonia -- a strong dislike or hatred of specific sounds.

What Happens?

Misophonia, also known as selective sound sensitivity syndrome, starts with a trigger. It’s often an oral sound -- the noise someone makes when they eat, breathe, chew, yawn, or whistle. Sometimes a small repetitive motion is the cause -- someone fidgets, jostles you, or wiggles their foot.

If you have a mild reaction, you might feel:

  • Anxious
  • Uncomfortable
  • The urge to flee
  • Disgust

If your response is more severe, the sound in question might cause:

  • Rage
  • Anger
  • Hatred
  • Panic
  • Fear
  • Emotional distress
  • A desire to kill or stop whatever is making the noise
  • Skin crawling
  • Suicidal thoughts

The disease can put a cramp in your social life. You might avoid restaurants or eat separately from your spouse, family, or roommates. Or worse, you could act on what you feel. You might attack the person who’s making the sound -- physical or verbally -- cry, or run away from the situation.

Over time, you may respond to visual triggers, too. Seeing someone get ready to eat or put something in their mouth might set you off.

How Do You Get It?

This lifelong condition usually starts between the ages of 9 and 13 and is more common with girls. It comes on quickly, but isn’t related to any one event.

Doctors aren’t sure what causes misophonia, but it’s not a problem with your ears. They think it’s part mental, part physical. It could be related to how sound affects your brain and triggers automatic responses in your body.

Because your ears are normal and your hearing is OK, the doctor may have trouble with a diagnosis. Misophonia is sometimes mistaken for anxiety or bipolar or obsessive-compulsive disorder. Some doctors think it should be classified as a new disorder.

How Do You Treat It?

The condition does affect daily life, but you can learn to manage it.

More than a dozen misophonia clinics around the country offer sound therapy combined with psychological counseling. The doctor sets up background noises to counteract your trigger sound.

You might try a device like a hearing aid that creates a sound in your ear similar to a waterfall. The noise distracts you from triggers and reduces reactions. Other treatments include talk therapy and antidepressants.

Your lifestyle also plays a role. Get regular exercise, plenty of sleep, and manage your stress. You can also wear ear plugs and headsets to tune out sounds. Set up quiet areas or safe spots in your home where no one will make the noises that bother you.

And find support. The Misophonia Association has chapters across the country. It holds annual conventions to bring together doctors and patients interested in this subject.

You can also find online and social media groups where people share coping strategies.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD on August 7, 2018



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