Though there’s currently a relatively small amount of research on the topic, and researchers have yet to reach a consensus on how to classify it, the International Misophonia Research Network considers misophonia a “sensory disorder.” Individuals with this condition experience an overwhelmingly negative reaction to particular sounds. To put it in perspective, it’s common to be annoyed by snoring or loud chewing, but for people with misophonia, sometimes called misophones, sounds like these, the clicking of a keyboard, or silverware moving across a plate, among others, can trigger feelings of panic, anxiety, or rage. This can lead to social withdrawal and isolation that affects home life, work and academic performance, and interpersonal relationships.
Some studies suggest that for misophones, trigger sounds activate their autonomic nervous system, which is responsible for our “fight or flight” response (Edelstein, et al. 2013). This may sound similar to hyperacusis, but the two are distinct conditions. Hyperacusis describes physical discomfort or pain as a response to sound whereas misophonia provokes a psychological or emotional response. That said, symptoms can manifest physically, as well, such as increased blood pressure, elevated heart rate, or sweating.
Because there’s not yet a formal test or established diagnostic criteria, it’s unclear exactly how many people are impacted by misophonia. There’s no known cure at present, however, coping strategies like cognitive and dialectical behavioral therapy and stress management techniques like breathwork and meditation are thought to help identify triggers and mitigate the severity of symptoms. If you think you may have misophonia, resources are available. Talk to an audiologist at Tuned, or connect with advocacy groups like soQuiet and the Misophonia Association to learn more about options for workplace accommodations and peer support groups in your area.
The author, Madeleine Campbell, is a Doctor of Audiology candidate at the CUNY Graduate Center and Vice President, the Student Academy of Audiology Executive Board.