Do you typically become angry, irritated, or anxious when you hear everyday sounds? It could be misophonia, and there’s help for it.

Misophonia is more than just feeling annoyed at specific sounds. People with this condition experience high levels of mental and emotional distress, to the point that they may restructure their lives around it.

Chewing gum or food, breathing, and finger tapping are just some of the noises that could lead you to experience emotional and physical discomfort if you live with misophonia.

So, what’s the cause? Researchers are learning that misophonia may have to do with how neurons fire in the brain.

As researchers learn more, those living with misophonia may have more options for treatment.

Misophonia is when someone experiences negative physical and emotional reactions to certain sounds.

Often, those sounds are everyday occurrences, like people:

  • coughing
  • sniffing
  • tapping fingers
  • clicking ballpoint pens

Misophonia is sometimes called selective sound sensitivity syndrome.

There are a few terms for sensitivity to sound, and each has specific features. This is why it may be helpful to define misophonia in comparison with other related experiences:

  • hyperacusis is sensitivity or low tolerance to a range of sounds within a certain volume or frequency
  • misophonia is an emotional reaction, like anger or avoidance, to specific sounds, regardless of volume
  • phonophobia is the fear of certain sounds

Misophonia isn‘t a formal diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-5). Researchers, however, have proposed criteria to diagnose the phenomenon, with the hope that it may support those living with the signs of misophonia.

Misophonia is a bit different for everyone. But there are common physical and emotional signs that many people experience.

Signs of misophonia arise in response to certain sounds. Although any one of a wide range of sounds may bring on a reaction, common examples include repetitive, nasal, or oral sounds made by people or pets. For example:

  • food chewing
  • lip smacking
  • gum popping
  • foot tapping
  • whistling

These sounds do not have to come from other people, although that’s common.

Sounds like ticking clocks or cabinets and drawers opening and closing can also elicit a response.

You may experience a range of emotions in response to those sounds that upset you, such as:

  • anger
  • irritation
  • disgust
  • rage
  • anxiety

Misophonia can also affect how you choose to live. It may also cause some physical symptoms, including:

  • pressure in the chest
  • sweating
  • elevated heart rate
  • desire to stop the sound
  • mimicking the sound to stop hearing it
  • avoidance of situations where the sound may occur

You might be constantly on guard if you‘re not sure when a sound might happen or which other sounds may cause you to experience the same reactions.

A 2017 survey of more than 300 people with misophonia discovered that most had lived with the condition since youth.

Why do people have misophonia? Researchers are still studying the cause.

A 2021 experimental study may offer some insight. The researchers discovered sounds activated mirror neurons in people with misophonia. These neurons typically cause people to model, mirror, or mimic behavior they see.

In people with misophonia, the same neurons activate as if you were actually performing the act that causes the sound.

The study’s authors speculate that the negative reaction is the result of feeling out of control, like personal space has been invaded, or that current goals are being held back.

Since the cause of misophonia isn‘t established yet, it’s not certain whether the condition is physical or psychological.

A 2019 experimental study demonstrated that different areas of the brain in people with misophonia are activated in response to triggering sounds compared with people without the condition.

Misophonia, although it isn’t a form of autism spectrum disorder or an anxiety disorder, does share some features of both these conditions.

Is misophonia a form of autism?

Misophonia isn’t a form of autism. It is also not a symptom of autism spectrum disorder.

However, some autistic people may experience decreased sound tolerance. Recent research has categorized this relationship with sound as a combination of:

  • misophonia
  • hyperacusis
  • phonophobia

Is misophonia a symptom of anxiety?

Misophonia isn’t an anxiety disorder, nor is it necessarily a symptom of anxiety. But people with misophonia may react with anxiety symptoms when they’re exposed to a triggering sound.

People who live with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) or an anxiety disorder may experience sound sensitivity.

In a 2018 survey exploring the possible relationship between misophonia and OCD, researchers found a stronger connection to the obsessive, rather than the compulsive, symptoms of OCD.

Researchers who have argued for a stand-alone diagnosis of misophonia note that for some people it may be an aspect or symptom of another condition, like sensory intolerance. Much remains to be learned about this experience.

There are no medications to treat misophonia. Working with a mental health professional may help, though.

Options include working to desensitize yourself from the sound that causes the reaction.

Health professionals may also work with you to manage potential emotional responses, such as anger, that result from exposure to the sound.

Until researchers determine the root causes of misophonia, people living with the condition may face challenges managing their experience.

While most people don’t even notice common noises, those living with misophonia may respond intensely to these sounds.

Treatment options for misophonia include working with a mental health professional to desensitize oneself from sounds that cause a disturbance and working to manage the emotional response.

New research reveals that misophonia may result from mirroring neurons in the brain. These findings point to misophonia as having a physical cause. More research is needed, though.