Hearing management

Updated 12 August 2016

Misophonia: when sounds drive you crazy

If you're trying to concentrate at work but the sounds of typing, clicking pens or sniffing are driving you completely mad, you may be suffering from misophonia.

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Whether it’s a clicking pen, continuous sniffing, fingernails being filed or loud chewing, there are certain sounds that have the ability to drive us absolutely crazy. For some, this is a mild irritation that can usually be ignored but for others, certain sounds are completely distracting and interrupt their work and other activities. If you're part of the latter group, you could be suffering from misophonia.

Misophonia is a chronic condition whereby particular sounds, specifically those produced by another person, trigger anger, impulsive reactions and a number of other responses.

The term which translates literally as "hatred of sound" was first used in 2002 by Pawel and Margaret Jastreboff, neuroscientists at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia in the United States. 

But how do we differentiate between someone who is gets mildly irritated and someone who actually suffers from misophonia?

Read: How we perceive sound

Understanding misophonia

Because the condition was only recognised fairly recently, there are a number of different views in terms of how to should be classified, diagnosed and managed.

Misphonia has also been associated with the fight or flight response, according to Misophonia UK. This can cause some suffers to immediately leave a location when exposed to a certain trigger sound (flight response) whilst others can become extremely violent (fight response).

In a study by the University of Amsterdam published in Plos OneArjan Schröder and his team studied 42 participants with symptoms of misophonia to gain a better understanding of the condition.

The study found a number of common reactions that resulted from exposure to certain sounds produced by humans. These include:

- Intense anger

- Impulsive reactions

- Fears of losing control

- Obsessive compulsive personality traits

- Avoiding situations in which the sound is likely to be heard

Schröder and his team believe that these factors should be used as the diagnostic criteria for the condition. They also believe that because a number of these factors are similar to those of other psychiatric issues, misophonia should be classified as a "discrete psychiatric disorder". 

Read: 5 of the strangest sounds ever recorded

What types of sounds trigger reactions in those suffering from misophonia?

Four different types of sounds were used in the study: eating sounds, breathing sounds, hand/finger sounds and foot sounds. Some types of sounds caused more reactions than others.

81% reacted to food sounds such as lip smacking, swallowing and eating while 64% reacted to breathing, sneezing and coughing.

Typing, pen clicking and nail clipping annoyed over half of the participants.

Foot sounds can be deemed to be the least irritating with only 16% of participants reacting to the sound of footsteps and high heels clacking.

Listen to this clip of someone eating loudly and take note of your reaction(s):

Read: The 10 most irritating sounds

What our readers say

To find out if our readers are annoyed by the same sounds as the participants in the study, we asked them on Facebook to name the sounds that they find most aggravating. We then classified the sounds mentioned into the same categories used in the study. The results were as follows:

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The results of our poll showed similarities with Schröder's research in that our readers also found food sounds to be the most irritating, followed by breathing/nose sounds, hand/finger sounds and lastly foot sounds.

68% of our readers found food sounds to be irritating. They specifically mentioned chewing food, chewing gum or bursting bubble gum bubbles and talking with a mouth full of food as sounds that really get on their nerves.

In terms of breathing and nose sounds, snorting, sniffing and snoring were commonly mentioned.

A number of our readers listed multiple sounds that annoy them and some indicated that these sounds affect their concentration at work, an indication that they may suffer from misophonia.

One reader actually stated directly that most sounds annoy her as she suffers from misophonia:

Comment taken from the Health24 Facebook page (name removed for privacy reasons)

misophonia

So what can you actually do to manage misophonia?

Some people suffering from misophonia may opt to put headphones on and listen to music in situations where they are exposed to trigger sounds, ie: at work or whilst travelling using public transport. While this may help at the time, listening to music loudly or long periods of time places you at an increased risk of hearing loss in the long term.

Instead, you should consider attempting to treat misophonia. Misophonia Online states that a number of different approaches can be used. These include:

- Cognitive Behavourial Therapy (CBT)

- Neurofeedback

- Hypnotherapy

- Tinnitus Retraining Therapy

If you believe that you may be suffering from misophonia, it is important to discuss your symptoms with your doctor. Avoiding treatment can affect your productivity at work and impact your relationships and day-to-day life. Your doctor will be able to refer you to a specialist for treatment where necessary.

Read more:

Why a fertile woman's voice makes men go wild

Pop stars and musicians more likely to go deaf

Your voice carries sexual cues

 

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Hearing Expert

Francis Slabber is a Speech & Language Therapist and Audiologist who has owned and run The Hearing Clinic in Wynberg, Cape Town for the last 17 years. Francis and her team have extensive experience in fitting and supplying hearing aids as well as assistive living devices. Francis has served as the Western Cape Chairperson for the South African Association of Audiologists for three years and has given many talks on the topic of hearing loss and amplification. The Hearing Clinic has a special interest in adult and geriatric hearing impairment, hearing aid fittings and hearing rehabilitation.

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