Crunch, slurp, sniff, wheeze—if you can’t stand common sounds like these, you may have a condition called misophonia. Those with misophonia respond to their “trigger sounds” with fear … anger … anxiety … and even panic attacks! Misophonia was first recognized as a condition in 2001, but it took scientists another 16 years to determine why some people find certain sounds to be unbearable. It turns out, the condition stems from an underlying brain abnormality…
Uncovering the Biological Basis of Misophonia
Neuroscientists at Newcastle University in Britain published findings in March of 2017 that revealed that the brains of misophonia sufferers actually respond differently to trigger sounds. The Newcastle team used an M.R.I. to measure the brain activities of 42 people, half of whom had misophonia and half of whom did not, while they listened to different auditory stimuli.
Each sound fell into one of three categories: neutral, which included the sound of falling rain; unpleasant, which included the sound of a crying infant; and triggering, which featured sounds related to chewing, drinking, and breathing. When the triggering sounds were played, the scientists found significant, measurable differences in the brain activity of those with misophonia and those without. Particular sounds, like eating and drinking, can cause an activity spike in the anterior insular cortex—a region of the brain responsible for processing emotions.
Even Skeptics Can’t Deny This Evidence
It’s still not apparent why those particular sounds cause such adverse reactions, says Dr. Sukhbinder Kumar, the lead researcher on the Newcastle study. He hopes that this study will offer some relief to misophonia sufferers, who must often contend with doubters who question the condition’s legitimacy. “This study demonstrates the critical brain changes as further evidence to convince a skeptical medical community that this is a genuine disorder,” Dr. Kumar says.
“I was part of the skeptical community myself,” adds Tim Griffiths, professor of Cognitive Neurology at Newcastle University, “until we saw patients in the clinic.” Griffiths hopes the study will help to reassure those with misophonia that the discomfort they experience is valid.
Advice on How to Treat Misophonia
While the study sheds light on the biological impacts of misophonia, it does not offer a clear means of treating the condition. Currently, misophonia clinics throughout the United States are utilizing a variety of treatment approaches, such as hypnosis…auditory distraction (typically involving white noise)…cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)… and a technique called tinnitus retraining therapy (TRT), created by Professor Pawel Jastreboff who coined the term misophonia, that can help those misophonia increase their tolerate for certain noises.
Of these techniques, CBT is the one you’re mostly likely to be able to successfully practice without the guidance of a trained professional.
There are ever several thoughtfully designed (and free!) programs you can access online that teach the principles of CBT. Just do a Google search, find a program that fits your style, and soon you may be suffering less at the sounds around you.