On misophonia, a misunderstood auditory disorder

Photo credit: Mike van Schoonderwalt

by Arline L. Bronzaft, Ph.D., Board of Directors, GrowNYC, Co-founder, The Quiet Coalition, and Honorary Chair, Quiet American Skies

The “annoying noises” that The Learning Network lists in this short post, namely “chewing, slurping, knuckle-cracking, pen-tapping,” are sounds that have generally been associated with misophonia, a syndrome that elicits strong reactions in people suffering from this disorder. The Learning Network post sends readers to a more in depth New York Times article which goes on to describe misophonia in greater detail, including how individuals suffering from this disorder respond to certain sounds such as knuckle-cracking and pen-tapping.

The disturbing sounds elicit a strong angry reaction in people who suffer from misophonia. Research has shown that such a strong reaction is the result of these sounds triggering a response from our autonomic nervous system. This involuntary “fight or flight” response is out of our conscious awareness and, thus, cannot be controlled. Misophonia has also been confused with another auditory disorder, namely hyperacusis, which is a hearing condition where one hears all sounds as too loud.

The article suggests that individuals who think they have misophonia should check out websites that more fully describe the disorder and provide information on resources to treat the problem. While the article suggests ways that one can lessen the impacts of misophonia, e.g. walking away from the problematic sound or playing music to drown out the sound, people with misophonia could also seek out a cognitive behavioral therapist for help. Sadly, few therapists are fully aware of misophonia.

But more attention is being paid today to auditory disorders such as misophonia and hyperacusis which center on unusual reactions to surrounding sounds from those suffering from these disorders. Let us not forget, however, that large numbers of people who do not have these conditions are exposed to many loud sounds and noises in their surroundings, and whether they know it or not, loud sounds and noises are adversely affecting their physical and mental health.

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