What You Need to Know About Misophonia

Agitated by the sound of someone eating, chewing gum or even breathing? This could be why.

Medically reviewed in April 2021

Does the sound of someone chewing food or even hearing them breathe bother you—​alot? You may have a condition called misophonia. Also known as selective sound sensitivity syndrome, misophonia is a negative reaction to specific sounds such as mouth noises or sniffing. Things like finger tapping, chewing gum and hearing the consonants p, s or t can also set off a reaction. And while you may find it annoying to hear someone slurping soup, it doesn’t necessarily mean you suffer from the condition.

Symptoms
According to the Misophonia Institute, this syndrome is caused by an involuntary physical and emotional reaction towards different sounds. In a recent small study published in the journal Current Biology, researchers found that exposure to certain sounds—most commonly drinking, chewing and breathing—triggered anger and anxiety in misophonia sufferers. For some, the condition is so severe that they must eat alone. The syndrome tends to start in childhood in reaction to sounds repeatedly made by a parent or family member. It seems to be more common among people who live in a state of high stress or anxiety or who may be compulsive.

Other triggered responses and reflexes—which could be a combination of physical and psychological—include:

  • strong hatred
  • irritability
  • muscle spasms
  • unproportioned feelings and reactions to sounds
  • pain in the arms, head, chest or entire body
  • shortness of breath

Interestingly, the sounds of their own eating don’t typically trouble people with misophonia. And it isn’t the loudness of the sound that causes the trigger; in fact, the noises are typically soft. People with this syndrome tend to have reactions that are mild to moderate; most are able to manage their anger and avoid outbursts. 

Diagnosis and Treatment
If your symptoms are severe enough that they are interfering with your life, check with your healthcare provider. A doctor or psychologist can evaluate your symptoms to see if they’re explained by another condition, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). If another disorder isn’t behind the symptoms, you may be referred to an audiologist for hearing tests.

Once diagnosed, common treatment options include: 

  • Misophonia retraining therapy
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • Mindfulness-based stress reduction
  • Positive association and desensitization
  • Psychological or psychiatric evaluation and therapy
  • Medication to help manage stress and anxiety

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