Misophonia: Rare Disorder Turning Life into Nightmare

Is there a sound that is capable of making you cringe? For most people, the most common example is nails on chalkboard. However, in healthy people, it’s just a minor issue. Today we are going to discuss misophonia, a rare syndrome that makes people rage or panic when they hear ordinary sounds like whistling, yawning, etc.

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What is misophonia?

The disorder in question is also called selective sound sensitivity syndrome. It is not known what causes it, and even the nature of it remains mysterious, though most researchers believe it has neurological changes behind it. In a recent study, it was shown that those suffering from misophonia have changes in their brain that make their body feel as if it was under threat when they hear specific sounds.

Although the translation of the syndrome name is “hatred of sounds”, it does not reflect the specific feature of the condition, e.g. that it’s hatred of certain sounds. Not any sound can have such a devastating effect, but among the common triggers are noises like crunching, swallowing, humming, clicking, plastic bag crinkling, etc. Those affected call it a trigger set. The thing is, the trigger set can be expanded over time, and new sounds can add to the list of noises that make you panic.

What are the symptoms?

In those suffering from misophonia, certain sounds cause fight or flight response, thus making them feel a range of emotions varying from moderate annoyance to panic or even rage. Such sound sensitivity makes a person offensive, agitated or defensive, which leads to significant problems communicating with others.

The list of common triggers may include such categories as food and eating (slurping, burping, sipping, etc.), breathing (sneezing, sniffing, hiccups, etc.), vocal (certain sounds like T, B; humming, whistling, etc.), environmental (clicking, ticking, writing sounds, etc.), utensils (hitting plates, fork scratching, etc.), and many others.

Some people with the disorder also have motions and visual stimuli on their trigger list. These may include small repetitive motions, like wiggling foot, fidgeting, etc.

If the reaction is mild, such a person can feel anxiety, disgust, urge to flee and just uncomfortable. However, in some cases, it can be as bad as triggering anger, fear, panic and other severe reactions.

How does it affect life?

Those with the syndrome have difficulty communicating with others, mainly for three reasons.

People make noises that are ordinary but fear- or rage-inducing in the case of people with misophonia.

Such patients do not want to hurt others, as their reactions can be dangerous to both the patient and the one making the noise.

Such people want to avoid as many sounds as possible and choose to eat alone, stop visiting places other than their home, live alone and even give up work, which makes them even more depressed.

All these result in poor social life and inability to work, study or just be part of the family. It causes immense stress, and even suicidal thoughts in some patients.

The disorder manifests itself when a person is 9-13 years of age and remains a lifelong one. Girls are more likely to suffer from it than boys.

How is it treated?

It is impossible to cure it, but there are several clinics for patients with misophonia which offer special therapies based on a set of measures aimed at helping you manage your reactions. For example, such a patient could benefit from a special hearing aid device that creates a certain relaxing sound (for example, the sounds of a waterfall) that distracts from the trigger noise. Other aspects of the therapies include exercising, psychological counseling, antidepressants, stress management techniques, etc.

One of the key things to remember is that such people are vulnerable, and they want a helping hand – if someone you know, be it a relative or a colleague, suffers from misophonia, try to support him/her instead of mocking: they are not being difficult, they really struggle. Creating a friendly environment is one of the ways to help those with this rare, yet debilitating disorder.

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