If you feel disgusted to the point of rage when you hear the sound of chewing, swallowing, breathing, throat-clearing and other common “people” noises, you’re not alone. You’re also not crazy. Misophonia is a sound sensitivity disorder, which makes certain noises intolerable to the sufferer.
Although this condition is primarily neurological, the experience of these sounds can cause psychological distress. The term misophonia was developed by Pawel and Margaret Jastreboff, American neuroscientists. Literally translated, it means “hatred of sounds.”
This condition usually develops when a child is just entering into his or her tween years, although it can develop earlier in life. The affected child will often feel a frightening and uncontrollable urge either to strike the person making the noises or run away with hands over ears. Alternatively, some will mimic the sounds of the chewer in an attempt to cover up the noise or to communicate in a nonverbal way how horrible the sound is to them. This reaction is called ‘echolalia’ and is also quite common among those on the autistic spectrum.
One of the primary difficulties of living with this disorder is others’ reactions. Those who do not have any hypersensitivity to sound simply cannot imagine how their chewing and swallowing noises can be so disgusting to another person. Often, protests from the sufferer are misinterpreted as passive-aggressive personal attacks or simply not believed at all.
Although misophonia is thought of as a relatively rare disorder, those with other neurological and sensory processing disorders often struggle with this condition. Conditions such as autism, Asperger’s syndrome, and ADHD interfere with the proper function of the nervous system, causing the patient’s brain to misinterpret information taken in by their senses. These disorders often cause a misinterpretation of social cues, smell, visual cues, touch, balance, hearing, sense of time, space, and movement. This sensory information can cause either a hypersensitive or hyposensitive response to various stimuli. In other words, the patient may hear or feel things much more or much less intensely than those with a neurotypical brain.
Although there is no cure for sound sensitivity, there are various techniques as well as some dietary and lifestyle modifications that can help dial back the symptoms of misophonia so it does not interfere so severely with everyday life. They are:
- Tinnitus retraining therapy. Designed by Dr. Pawel Jastreboff, tinnitus retraining therapy was developed for those who live with tinnitus, misophonia, and hyperacusis. A combination of counseling and desensitization therapy with low-level broad-band noise aims to reclassify intolerable sounds to more neutral signals. This training helps to weaken the neuronal activity associated with the fight-or-flight response these noises often produce.
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is a technique designed to rewire the brain through the use of intense psychotherapy aimed at treating one specific problem. The specialist helps the patient go deep within to understand the specific emotions certain sounds produce and so they can gain control over automatic response. Over time, this helps desensitize the patient to formally rage-inducing sounds.
- Occupational therapy. Those with sensory processing disorders often find occupational therapy beneficial. This approach helps a person’s neurological system integrate his or her senses so he or she can more appropriately process information. For example, an occupational therapist might have a person who is hypersensitive to certain noises gradually experience a wide variety of noises, including the offensive ones, to help their brains get used to and eventually dismiss them. These sounds are altered as needed to ensure the experiences are positive and within the patient’s comfort zone.
- Psychotherapeutic hypnotherapy. Hypnotherapy with a certified hypnotherapist can help ease the symptoms of misophonia through the proven power of suggestion. Many individuals have been able to successfully overcome phobias and addictions through this method. A psychologist can best recommend a reputable practitioner.
- Chelated magnesium supplement. Sound sensitivity sufferers have often been found to have an overabundance of a neurotransmitter called glutamate. Clinical studies have hypothesized that during periods of stress, endogenous dynorphins are released into the synaptic region behind inner hair cells. This is thought to increase the strength of glutamate, causing otherwise-tolerable sounds to be perceived with excessive loudness.
In my practice, 85 percent of my patients came to me with a severe magnesium deficiency. A deficiency in this mineral often leads to anxiety, mood swings, personality disorders, sound sensitivity, light sensitivity, and insomnia. Magnesium has been shown to mitigate the neurotransmitter glutamate while easing the anxiety and anger experienced by someone with most types of sound sensitivity. Chelated magnesium is one of the best types of mineral supplements as it is very small and easy for the body to absorb and make use of.
- Avoidance of neurotoxic chemicals. Multiple research studies have shown that certain food additives and household chemicals can trigger or exacerbate neurological conditions. Many with autism and ADHD have found great relief from removing these chemicals from their diet and immediate surroundings. Avoidance of MSG, food dyes, high fructose corn syrup, gluten, aspartame, BHT, and BHA in food and parabens, phthalates, BPA, formaldehyde, and dioxin in household chemicals can help ease neurological sensitivity.
The most effective way to reduce the amount of neurotoxic chemicals in your environment is to eat more from the earth and less from a box. Clean with natural products such as vinegar, lemon, baking soda, and castile soap.
Misophonia, while rare, is a real neurological condition. You haven’t lost your mind. If you hate the sound of chewing and other common noises to the point of frenzy, there is real help and validation out there. Talk with a trusted medical professional about the therapeutic techniques mentioned above. They may help you better integrate your senses and help you enjoy the world around you.
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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 16 Mar 2014
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.
Maxwell, C. (2014). Living with Extreme Sound Sensitivity. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 19, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2014/03/19/living-with-extreme-sound-sensitivity/