What is misophonia?

There’s something about Justin Bieber I just can’t stand. You may think it’s his entitled, annoying, grandiose persona, but it’s not. It’s his music. It makes me mad.

He’s not the only pop artist (oh, there’s also a classic artist or four – and jazz) that rubs my cochlear up the wrong way.

Evidently, it’s not necessarily my loss of touch with the music of the younger generation or not being hip enough to recognise the genius of jazz music. It may have something to do with a little thing called ‘misophonia’.

Misophonia is when certain sounds that may not bother anyone else trigger an over-the-top emotional reaction from someone.

Put simply, misophonia is a strong dislike or hatred of specific sounds – some that may even ‘drive you crazy’.

These sounds trigger emotional or physiological responses that some might perceive as unreasonable. Reactions can range from mild annoyance to full-blown rage.

The disorder, which is also referred to as ‘selective sound sensitivity syndrome’ is often triggered by everyday sounds, such as the sound of someone chewing, using a metal fork or spoon on a metal bowl or pot (this one also kills me), heavy breathing or a squelching shoe. Other triggers may include the sound of windscreen wipers, a squeaky shopping trolley wheel or someone tapping their foot while listening to music.

People with misophonia can also react adversely to visual stimuli accompanying a sound, such as someone fidgeting, wiggling their feet, or repeatedly turning over in their sleep while breathing heavily or snoring. Seeing someone get ready to eat or put something in their mouth might also set you off.

According to WebMD, people with misophonia may have issues with how their brains filter sounds and that one of the features of ‘misophonic sounds’ may be repetitive noise. That repetition then exacerbates other auditory processing problems.

Mild reactions to sounds or stimuli may include:

  • becoming anxious
  • discomfort
  • wanting to flee
  • disgust.

More severe reactions include:

  • rage
  • anger
  • hatred
  • panic
  • fear
  • emotional distress.

People with mild misophonia may avoid busy restaurants or establishments that produce certain sounds, such as modern pop music playlists, cooking noises or plates being bashed about.

Those with severe misophonia can become somewhat aggressive or even violent, physically or verbally attacking the person or thing making the sound. Some may cry or run away from the situation.

Misophonia is lifelong condition. It’s more common with girls. Doctors aren’t quite sure what causes it, but they seem to be confident that it’s not a problem with your ears – it’s part mental, part physical – and most likely relates to how sound affects your brain and triggers automatic responses in your body.

While there is no cure for misophonia, you can manage it. In my case, I refuse to listen to the radio and have wooden spoons for cooking. For others, it may include counselling or sound therapy to create coping strategies. Some people are fitted with hearing aids that play water sounds which ease their anxiety and distract them from reaction triggers. Ear plugs and headsets can also be used to tune out annoying sounds (I swear by this method).

If you think you may suffer from misophonia, visit www.allergictosound.com or www.beyondblue.org.au for assistance.

Do you think you might be suffering from misophonia? Which sounds do you find most annoying?

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Written by Leon Della Bosca

Leon Della Bosca has worked in publishing and media in one form or another for around 25 years. He's a voracious reader, word spinner and art, writing, design, painting, drawing, travel and photography enthusiast. You'll often find him roaming through galleries or exploring the streets of his beloved Melbourne and surrounding suburbs, sketchpad or notebook in hand, smiling.
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