Mental Health

Do Sounds Make You Angry? Here's What You Should Know About Misophonia

Maybe the sound of someone chewing gum or smacking their lips has made you want to leave the room. Or the repetitive sound of tapping or scratching has filled you with a full- blown anger.

If you can relate to having such strong reactions towards certain everyday sounds, you may be suffering from misophonia. 

What is it?

The term, meaning "hatred of sound", refers to an under-recognized medical disorder, which was first identified in 2000 by audiologists Pawel and Margaret Jastreboff.

Those who suffer from the condition may become aggressive when they are unable to avoid their 'trigger sound', which may lead to disruptions in their social or family life. It can also cause impaired concentration in the classroom or workplace where it is common to hear sounds of a pen clicking or a chalk against the blackboard. 

What does the research say?

While figures estimate that less than 200,000 people in the U.S. experience the disorder, medical literature and clinical research are still limited.

Like hyperacusis, misophonia may be caused by a dysfunction of the central auditory system in the brain and not of the ears. In 2017, Sukhbinder Kumar from Newcastle University conducted a study to observe misophonic patients with an fMRI machine. Upon hearing the trigger sounds, Kumar and the researchers observed that the patients experienced sweating and a greater activation in an area of the brain called the anterior insular cortex. 

"Specifically, fMRI showed that in misophonic subjects, trigger sounds elicit greatly exaggerated blood-oxygen-level-dependent (BOLD) responses in the anterior insular cortex (AIC), a core hub of the "salience network" that is critical for perception of interoceptive signals and emotion processing," according to the researchers. "Trigger sounds in misophonics were associated with abnormal functional connectivity between AIC and a network of regions responsible for the processing and regulation of emotions," the study added.

Living with the condition can be very difficult depending on the severity. Studies have shown that some patients experience physical responses such as an increase in blood pressure and body temperature, a rise in heart rate, or muscle tightness.

How can it be treated?

Earlier this month, the first ever trial for the condition took place and was published in the Journal of Affective Disorders. “Despite the high burden of this condition, to date, there is no evidence-based treatment available,” stated lead author Arjan Schröder. The study suggested that Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) may be the most effective treatment for patients. Of the ninety participants in the study, 48% showed a reduction in the severity of misophonic symptoms after attending CBT sessions. 

In the 2017 film Baby Driver, the lead character copes with tinnitus (a condition that leaves permanent ringing noise in the ears) by listening to music. Similarly, misophonic patients can consider wearing headphones and listening to music when they are confronted with trigger sounds.

Because no other specific treatments or medications have been identified yet, individuals have been left to seek CBT or develop their own coping mechanisms until further progress is made.