What is Misophonia?
Misophonia means “hatred of sound” in Greek. Also called selective sound sensitivity syndrome, misophonia is the dislike or hatred of certain sounds to an extent where it interferes with daily lifestyle. It is a neurological condition that has both psychological and physiological symptoms.
Everyone gets occasionally irritated by certain sounds like chewing or clicking a pen. For people with misophonia, these sounds cause a severe reaction in them. They have very strong emotional reactions and physiological distress. The sensitivity to sound can cause a fight-or-flight response in people and interfere with their everyday lives. Emotional reactions like anxiety, rage, panic, anger, and hatred are triggered by this condition. This can also turn into verbal and physical aggression, avoidance, isolation, and depression.
The reaction is an involuntary physical and emotional reflex triggered by the sound. It activates the autonomic nervous system located in the brain and the limbic system associated with emotion. This results in emotional distress and the fight or flight response, which involves sweating, rapid heartbeat, and hormonal changes, among other symptoms. This reaction usually happens immediately within seconds of hearing the sound. The symptoms are instant and huge and take over cognitive functioning.
People with misophonia are often misdiagnosed as having anxiety or other disorders. This is because misophonia related research is fairly new. A lot of studies are being done to understand the condition better and establish more facts about it. It is not included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), which is the main resource for diagnosing mental disorders in the United States. There is an International Misophonia Network that lists doctors with knowledge of misophonia to help with the condition.
Triggers of Misophonia
The triggering sounds may vary over time and among different people. Almost any sound can be a potential trigger. The common triggers that cause misophonia are:
- Sounds related to the mouth like smacking lips, slurping, throat clearing, chomping, and swallowing
- Loud breathing sounds
- Clicking pens
- Papers rustling
- Clocks ticking
- Sounds of some animals
- Slamming car doors
- Certain visual triggers include wagging feet, twirling hair
Characteristics of Misophonia
Since misophonia-related research is fairly new, many health professionals cannot easily differentiate between it and other related conditions. A few characteristics of misophonia include:
1. More women have misophonia than men.
2. The symptoms are first seen between the ages of 9 to 12 in most people. The onset of this condition is generally before puberty.
3. The first reaction is usually triggered by a specific sound from a parent or other family members, and this intensifies over time, and new triggers arise.
4. People with this condition tend to have a higher IQ.
The Genetics Behind Misophonia
Misophonia is more common in women than in men. About 15-20% of adults with European ancestry were found to suffer from this condition. This indicates that there’s a genetic link to misophonia.
A genetic marker located near the TENM2 gene involved in brain development is associated with the feeling of rage at trigger sounds.
The TENM2 gene encodes a protein called Teneurin-2. This protein is involved in neural development and neuronal connectivity.
rs1837253 is an SNP found in the TENM2 gene. The G allele of this SNP is the risk allele and is associated with an increased risk of the condition.
Non-Genetic Factors that Influence Misophonia
- Misophonia seems to be more common in people who have obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety disorder, Tourette syndrome, and tinnitus. Tinnitus is also a sound-related disorder where you can hear sounds that no one else can hear. The direct association between misophonia and other disorders is being studied.
- Living in an environment with various triggers of the condition, situations like social gatherings where you can encounter many triggers.
How to Manage Misophonia?
This is a lifelong disorder with no specific cure. However, the symptoms can be managed by following several measures.
- Try to actively avoid triggers as repeated exposure to the trigger can make the response worse.
- Maintaining good health, both emotional and physical, and help lessen the severity of the response for a trigger.
- Counseling: This can definitely help people manage their symptoms better and lead a normal lifestyle. Misophonia can have a negative impact on the people around you, too, as you display severe emotional and physical distress. Support is needed for both the person with the condition and their family. Misophonia Interantional, an advocacy and networking organization, provides a lot of useful information regarding this condition, including managing this condition and connecting with several researchers and trained professionals.
- Cognitive behavioral therapy: This may help change the negative associations linked to triggering noises. Audio of rain, nature, or other sounds are streamed using ear-level devices, and this helps most people experience a relief in symptoms.
- Treating tinnitus can help people tolerate triggering noises better.
- Misophonia is a condition where severe emotional and physical reactions are triggered by certain sounds. It is a neurological condition that has both psychological and physiological symptoms.
- Misophonia is often misdiagnosed, as research on this disease is fairly new. There is an international misophonia network that gives information about the condition and a list of professionals to consult.
- Sounds related to eating, breathing, movement of hands and feet are the common triggers of misophonia. Certain visual triggers can also induce symptoms.
- The genetic link to misophonia is the TENM2 gene. The G allele of SNP rs1837253 is found to increase the risk of misophonia.
- There is no definitive cure for this condition, but symptoms can be managed by avoiding triggers, maintaining a healthy and balanced lifestyle, counseling, and certain therapies.