There's a Reason Certain Noises Drive You Crazy, and It's Called Misophonia
Can't stand the sound of others chewing? Or maybe breathing? You're not alone.
Growing up, my mom and I got along really well, but I'll admit, there was one thing she did that always drove me absolutely crazy: swallow water, or any beverage for that matter. OK, to clarify, it wasn't the fact that she drank water that annoyed me (I of course wanted her to drink it to live), it was the sound she made when she swallowed that I couldn't stand...that glug glug sound that came from her throat as she gulped down a glass.
That sound made me straight-up angry. Seriously, it got so bad that I would ask my mom to tell me before she took a drink so I could leave the room while she did. For the longest time I thought I had weird anger issues, but I recently learned I'm not the only one who has a problem with certain sounds. In fact, there's even a name for it.
It's called misophonia, and it's characterized by an intense emotional rage in response to specific everyday sounds that other people make, Don Vaughn, PhD, a neuroscientist at UCLA, tells Health. Many of the sounds that drive people crazy come from the mouth, like chewing, breathing, or swallowing. But other things, like sniffling, pen-clicking, or humming, can also make people extremely irritated.
Misophonia is still new to the medical world (it only got its name a few years ago), which means there hasn't been much research done on this disorder that some experts call "sound rage." No one is really sure what causes misophonia, but, Vaughn says, "Every sound, smell, and sight that goes into your system, your brain works very hard to process it and to correlate it with something in your life, whether it's a good thing or a bad thing. Your brain is this automatic association machine, so sometimes it just gets the associations wrong or sort of negatively miswired."
One thing that distinguishes misophonia from other sound-related disorders is that it's triggered by repetitive, everyday sounds as opposed to other sounds, Vaughn says. For example, word aversion is when a person has an intense reaction to a certain word, like moist or crevice, but misophonia is related to sounds, not words. Another thing that sets misophonia apart: The reaction is rage instead of fear, he adds. Phonophobia is the name for a fear of sounds.
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Misophonia isn't yet listed as an official diagnosis in any medical manuals, so there isn't a set criteria for diagnosing it, although there are various online questionnaries that will help you get an idea of whether you might have the disorder.
If you think you have misophonia, you should consult your primary care physician about your options. They'll likely refer you to an audiolosist who can help you move forward with treatment, which usually involves sound therapy and counseling to learn how to redirect your attention away from trigger sounds.
Also, don't be discouraged if it takes a few tries to find someone who has experience treating misophonia. As we said, it's still a new term, and there are probably many doctors who have never even heard of it. Don't give up until you're satisfied with the answers you've been given, and remember, even just talking about misophonia is very important. It raises awareness and puts us one step closer to having more research done on the disorder. It also helps kids like my younger self know they're not alone when they're standing in the other room waiting for their mom to drink her water.