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Do you have to calm yourself down if you hear someone chewing their food loudly, breathe loudly or smack their gum?

If so, you may have misophonia – a dislike or hatred of certain sounds that often begins at about the age of 12. This disorder goes beyond thinking it’s annoying when someone makes noise with their mouth or repetitive movement, such as tapping a pen on their desk.

People with misophonia have a physiological or emotional response to these “trigger” sounds. It seems their reaction is not due solely to the sounds itself but to the individual’s previous exposure to the sound and the context in which the noise is presented. This emotional response could be tied to one person or source of the sound.

Studying the Hatred of Sounds

A Dutch study assessed 42 individuals with misophonia. It randomly selected five of the participants to examine their hearing, with four displaying normal pure tone threshold sensitivity, while one person had conductive hearing loss. An interesting finding was that none of the 42 participants had a reaction to the trigger sound when it was self-produced, only when made by others.

The sounds eliciting the strongest reaction were:

  • Chewing sounds (81%)
  • Breathing (64%)
  • Repetitive sounds such as a pen tapping or clicking (60%)

Twelve percent of participants also had a visual trigger associated with these sounds. Responses ranged from irritation (most common) to anger and disgust. Avoidance was the usual coping strategy, either by removing themselves from the situation or avoiding social interactions.

A study from Britain examined 20 adults reporting misophonia and 22 without it. Scientists had them rate the level of unpleasantness of numerous sounds, including the usual trigger sounds, neutral sounds (such as rain) and more universally unpleasant sounds such as screams or babies crying.

The individuals with misophonia labeled the trigger sounds as highly disturbing (the others did not). These sounds also elicited reactions such as a faster heart rate and sweating in those with misophonia. Both groups showed similar responses to the neutral and universally disturbing noises.

Treating Misophonia

There are a number of ways to evaluate and treat misophonia, including:

  • Counseling: This can help the patient understand the link between the auditory system and nonauditory parts of the brain are connected in processing sounds. For young patients, it is helpful to involve the family in a way that gives everyone an improved sense of hope.
  • Retraining therapy: This process involves retraining the person to be around these sounds without triggering an extreme reaction. This may be done gradually through the use of headphones at the dinner table with an increasingly lower volume of music.
  • Desensitization: This method involves mixing the trigger sounds with more pleasant noises. This should be done slowly, never forcing the person to “stand” the noise as long as possible in the hopes of them tolerating it.

For more information about how Audiology & Hearing Services of Charlotte can help, call 704-412-7975 or schedule an appointment online

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