What is misophonia?
Only officially recognized as a medical disorder in 2001, misophonia is a condition characterized by severe sensitivity to certain sounds. It was coined by neurophysiologist Pawel Jastreboff, who wrote a paper describing symptoms of decreased sound tolerance in 2001.
Here are some of the sounds people might be sensitive to:
- Throat clearing
- Nose blowing
These sounds don’t have to be loud to elicit an emotional response in those who have misophonia. Neither hearing loss or tinnitus have to be present for those with misophonia to react negatively. At the behavioral level however, sounds specific for a given patient evoke strong negative reactions.
What are the key symptoms of misophonia?
Those with only a mild case of the condition might feel anxious, uncomfortable or feel like they have to leave the area immediately. But for those with more severe symptoms, these specific sounds often elicit stronger emotions. Such as: rage, panic, and fear. When fear is the dominant emotion, it turns into phonophobia, which is a specific case of misophonia.
Some instances of misophonia may be so severe that people with the disease are completely overwhelmed by the noise. This can impact your social life seriously. Those with misophonia were known to experience pre-anxiety in situations where they know they are likely to encounter the sound again. They might even refrain from eating with friends and family altogether.
Since misophonia was only just recognized in 2001, it is not formally listed in any medical manuals. Many physicians have not heard about it, and patients are occasionally rejected or diagnosed with other conditions instead when they describe their symptoms.
While many misophonic individuals also have anxiety or depression, it is not always the case. Only a few studies have been carried out on the effects of the condition, and as it is such a newly discovered condition, experts have yet to agree on whether it should be categorized as its own or as a subset of another.
Because it's so little understood, it is hard for the friends and family of those afflicted to understand how debilitating the symptoms can be, or even to believe that the condition actually exists at all. This can add an extra source of distress for misophonia sufferers.
The latest research
However, in recent years there has been a surge of interest in the condition, which might pave the way for more widespread recognition. A study was published in 2019 in the journal that discovered misophonia might be the result of the way certain people's brains process particular sounds.
A new study was published this year in the journal Scientific Reports authored by researchers at the University of Amsterdam. They analyzed the brain patterns of 21 people with misophonia and 23 participants without misophonia as they viewed video clips, some of which were offensive to those with misophonia and some which were not.
As expected, the misophonic participants felt angry and disgusted by the offending clips. But the key finding was that their brains showed a lot of activity in the salience network, the part of the brain that helps us notice things in our immediate environment.
These findings mirrored a study published two years’ prior, in 2017, in the journal Current Biology, which also found that trigger sounds led to an overstimulation of the salience network. That study also found that the sounds activated areas of the brain responsible for managing fear and emotions, as well as creating long-term memories.
Through brain-imaging techniques, the scientists have discovered that the relationships between these areas of the brain are unique and sometimes stronger in those with misophonia than the average person.
This has made researchers speculate that misophonia could be caused by a different wiring of the brain, which makes the brain of those with misophonia more likely to see these sounds as threatening than other people.
These studies are welcome news as for the first time, studies have demonstrated a difference in brain structure of those who are suffering from the condition, lending the condition a weight that will hopefully help more people in the wider medical community recognize the condition sooner.