A friend sent me this fantastic article on sound aversion. If you’ve ever had an issue listening to someone chewing loudly or sloppily, you may have gotten a taste of what this condition, misophonia, can be like for some people. Written by Joyce Cohen, published in New York Times.
When a Chomp or a Slurp Is a Trigger for Outrage
For people with a condition that some scientists call misophonia, mealtime can be torture. The sounds of other people eating — chewing, chomping, slurping, gurgling — can send them into an instantaneous, blood-boiling rage.
Or as Adah Siganoff put it, “rage, panic, fear, terror and anger, all mixed together.”
“The reaction is irrational,” said Ms. Siganoff, 52, of Alpine, Calif. “It is typical fight or flight” — so pronounced that she no longer eats with her husband.
Many people can be driven to distraction by certain small sounds that do not seem to bother others — gum chewing, footsteps, humming. But sufferers of misophonia, a newly recognized condition that remains little studied and poorly understood, take the problem to a higher level.
They also follow a strikingly consistent pattern, experts say. The condition almost always begins in late childhood or early adolescenceand worsens over time, often expanding to include more trigger sounds, usually those of eating and breathing.
“I don’t think 8- or 9-year-olds choose to wake up one morning and say, ‘Today my dad’s chewing is going to drive me insane,’ ” said Marsha Johnson, an audiologist in Portland, Ore., who runs an online forum for people with misophonia.
But that is what happens, she said, adding, “Soon the kid doesn’t want to come to the table or go to school.”
Aage R. Moller, a neuroscientist at the University of Texas at Dallas who specializes in the auditory nervous system, included misophonia in the “Textbook of Tinnitus,” a 2010 medical guide of which he was an editor.
He believes the condition is hard-wired, like right- or left-handedness, and is probably not an auditory disorder but a “physiological abnormality” that resides in brain structures activated by processed sound.
There is “no known effective treatment,” Dr. Moller said. Patients often go from doctor to doctor, searching in vain for help.
Dr. Johnson agreed. “These people have been diagnosed with a lot of different things: phobic disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder, bipolar, manic, anxiety disorders,” she said.
Dr. Johnson’s interest was piqued when she saw her first case in 1997. “This is not voluntary,” she said. “Usually they cry a lot because they’ve been told they can control this if they want to. This is not their fault. They didn’t ask for it and they didn’t make it up.” And as adults, they “don’t outgrow it,” she said. “They structure their lives around it.”
Taylor Benson, a 19-year-old sophomore at Creighton University in Omaha, says many mouth noises, along with sniffling and gum chewing, make her chest tighten and her heart pound. She finds herself clenching her fists and glaring at the person making the sound.
“This condition has caused me to lose friends and has caused numerous fights,” she said.
Misophonia (“dislike of sound”) is sometimes confused with hyperacusis, in which sound is perceived as abnormally loud or physically painful. But Dr. Johnson says they are not the same. “These people like sound, the louder the better,” she said of misophonia patients. “The sounds they object to are soft, hardly audible sounds.” One patient is driven crazy by her beloved dog licking its paws. Another can’t bear the pop of the plosive “p” in ordinary conversation.
When people with the disorder can’t avoid the sounds, they sometimes try earplugs to block them, or white-noise devices to mask them.
Family links are common. Ms. Siganoff suspects her father had the condition, too. “He would buy us new shoes and complain we were walking too loud,” she said.
The prevalence is unknown. Dr. Johnson’s Yahoo group, soundsensitivity, has about 1,700 members worldwide. One member, a man from Canberra, Australia, runs soundsensitivity.info, an informational site for the general public.
Meanwhile, those with the condition cope as best they can. Ms. Siganoff says she remains enraged until she says something like “shut up” or “stop it.”
“If I don’t say anything, the rage builds,” she said. “That vocalization is enough to stop the reaction.” (Echolalia, or mimicking the offensive sound, is common, Dr. Johnson said.)
As a young adolescent at the dinner table, Heidi Salerno tried to discreetly plug her ears or chew in sync with others so her own chewing noises would drown theirs out.
Doctors told her she was too controlling, said Ms. Salerno, 44, a lawyer in San Diego. “But there are many things I am not in control of, and I don’t feel rage about it,” she said. “I was always brushed off.”
Ms. Salerno shuts her office door against bothersome sounds like pen clicking. She is a champion swing dancer, and when she teaches dance she prohibits gum chewing in class, telling her students, “If you are chewing gum, I will be distracted.”
Donna McDow, 57, a retired secretary who lives near Los Angeles, tries a different tack, telling people she has a bad headache. “Everybody understands a headache,” she said. “Nobody understands what we have.”