Photo courtesy of Ben Husmann.
We all have those certain sounds that drive us up the wall. Somebody chewing with their mouth open, the crinkling noise of someone reaching in a bag of potato chips, Sarah Palin’s voice, and so on. They are minor annoyances and a part of life. We listen to them, become irritated, and move on. However, imagine if these everyday sounds threw you into such a blind rage that the only thing you could focus on was destroying the source of the auditory sensation. This scenario is a reality for people living with a disorder called misophonia.
Literally translating to “the hatred of sound,” misophonia – also known as Selective Sound Sensitivity Syndrome (4S) and hyperacusis – is still a relatively unknown disorder. Many doctors are unaware of the population living with this condition and misdiagnose it as a phobic or obsessive disorder. It wasn’t until late 2011 when The New York Times published an article titled “When a Chomp or Slurp is a Trigger for Outrage” that the general population became aware of the people suffering from this disease.
The majority of patients that are known to have misophonia have symptoms starting at early adolescence (8 to 10 years old). Before this time, they live normal childhoods but slowly develop an intense aversion to sounds. This could be anything from pens clicking, chewing gum, or a quiet exhale from a person around them.
Little is known about what causes this disorder but researchers agree that it is not an auditory issue. People with cases of misophonia have perfectly working ears. The problem lies within the brain and how it processes sound. This could be a genetic disorder as some people living with misophonia often have family members who have aversions to different noises.
Many times, the people creating the sounds that induce the rage are the ones closest to them such as parents or other family members. ABC’s weekly news program, 20/20, recently reported on a young girl named Taylor that suffers from misophonia. The biggest catalyst of her rage are the sounds coming from her mother. It started when she was 8 after her mom coughed and Taylor screamed in agony. Thinking it was a phase, her family tried to work through it but as the years went by, the aversion to noise continued. Today, Taylor spends most of her time by herself in her room. She can only communicate to her mom through notes and eating dinner together is out of the question.
Another common similarity with people suffering from this disorder is the increase in sensitivity to different noises with age. As they get older the problem does not start to go away and more noises are added to the queue of triggers of auditory hysteria. Once the noise is registered in their mind, the only way to release the rage is to acknowledge it. This varies from person to person and can include screaming or telling the source of the noise to “shut up.”
The symptoms of this disorder create a void in the development and longevity of lasting relationships. Maintaining friendships or being able to date is almost out of the question since the longer they are with somebody, the more noises the opposite party creates that induces the rage. This leads to depression among the misophonia population and thoughts of suicide.
Since this is something that people are becoming more aware of, a light is beginning to form in hopes of help. There are currently no cures for the disorder but online support groups are available for people who share this condition. Many people learn to live with it and figure ways to reduce the auditory episodes. This includes wearing earplugs or chewing their food at the same time as the person sitting with them in order to reduce the noise they hear. There are also several doctors throughout the country that are trying to treat this disorder through sound generating equipment in hopes of “weaken(ing) the abnormal connection between the sounds and the autonomous nervous system” and cognitive behavioral therapy.
For those of us that do not live with misophonia, we can consider ourselves lucky that our pet peeve sounds are only minor annoyances. Yes, the person sitting next to you on the bus could easily chew their gum without chomping on it in similar fashion to a goat gnawing on grass, but the noises produced from their mouth are quickly forgotten. Unfortunately, not everybody can shrug the sound off. So next time your friend complains to you about their teacher’s nasally voice or the weird clicking noise their co worker makes when making a presentation, think about Taylor eating dinner by herself every night.