Misophonia is the term used for people who suffer from annoyance to specific sounds. As I write this, I looked back at my choice to use the word “suffer” and then decided based on my experience with people who have the disorder, suffer is the perfect word. The person suffers when hearing particular sounds. People with misophonia are usually thought of as being “too sensitive, tightly wired, control freaks or that they are faking the problem for attention” by their friends and family. For more than 30 years, I have heard the stories from my patients, listened to the family members and even to co-workers of the individual with the inability to function in a room if particular sounds occur. I have witnessed people leave a perfectly good job, quit school or make poor grades because of the disability. I have seen families become frustrated enough to seek formal counseling because one family member was unable to sit at the table during dinner with the rest of the family.
What Causes Misophonia?
Misophonia is a disorder of the manner in which the brain processes a sound. For some reason the brain is unable to send the sound through the complicated maze in the brain with the necessary finesse that it is able to do with other types of sound. There does not appear to be one cause for this processing problem but it can occur after a head injury or incident of whiplash. There is a higher incidence of misophonia with tinnitus or ringing in the ears. Many of the people will tell you that the sounds have bothered them since they can remember – even as a child.
What Sounds are the Common Culprits?
The sounds that cause the stress response are called triggers. There are common potential triggers for misophonia to which the sufferer may react to with fear, irritation or anger. The reaction quickly escalates to an extreme level that is clearly out of proportion with the trigger, and the sufferer usually believes their response is out of their control. The triggers are commonly body sounds or repetitive noises in the environment. Some of the most common triggers are: smacking lips, chewing sounds, tapping sounds, yawning, popping jaw, spitting, swallowing, blowing the nose and clearing the throat. Some individuals are triggered by the sound of Velcro as it is torn apart, clicking of the ball point pen, the flipping of the pages in a magazine, clipping toe nails, swinging of a crossed leg, jiggling of a foot, clearing of a throat repeatedly, shuffling of cards (on an airplane), chewing gum, ticking clocks, water dripping, jingled change in a pocket and noisy breathing sounds. Can you imagine sitting in a classroom filled with children in the winter listening to all the body noises the other kids are making? Simply sitting in a school bus or even in a restaurant can be overwhelming for these individuals.
The person with misophonia may limit his/her social activities in an effort to reduce the stress they feel. It makes personal relationships difficult by introducing a misunderstood and unique stressor. In an effort to make relationships more enjoyable, treatments have been designed. One is desensitizing through programmed sound played in a room as a person sits engaged in an activity. Another option is to wear an ear-level masker, which seems to be very successful. The masker is programmed with several different masking sounds for the person to toggle through as the day progresses, depending on the situation they are in. The results are immediate! The most common description is that they feel calmer, similar to sitting in a cocoon or wrapped in a soft blanket. They can still hear the abusive sound, but the reaction to the sound is significantly changed. Each time I fit maskers on people with misophonia, I am amazed how each person will describe the same feeling of relaxation within a few minutes of turning on the device!
Is the Treatment Long Term?
The outcome of using an ear level masker has shown that the overall tolerance to sound is much improved with daily use and the hope is that over time the maskers are “needed” less and less. At this point, we don’t know if an individual using the maskers is able to integrate the sounds into the specialty brain area permanently, but for now, there is relief! QCBN
Dr. Karon Lynn
Trinity Hearing Center
Trinity Hearing Center is located at 1330
N. Rim Dr., Suite B in Flagstaff. For more
information, call 928-522-0500, or visit the
website at www.TrinityHearing.net.
Karon Lynn is a doctor of audiology and
practices at Trinity Hearing Center. She has
30 years of experience
working with hearing
impaired individuals. Dr.
Lynn may be reached
at 928-522-0500, or by
email at audio@trinityhearing.
Trinity Hearing Center
1330 N. Rim Drive, Suite B
Flagstaff, AZ 86001