A Sensitivity to Certain Sounds May Be Due to Misophonia

According to a recent article, researchers have found that a sensitivity to sounds such as chewing or breathing may actually be caused by misophonia.

Misophonia

Misophonia, which literally translates to “hatred of sound,” is a rare chronic condition that causes affected individuals to have intense, but involuntary, emotional experiences to specific sounds. These emotional reactions can be either mild or very strong, and include anything from disgust and rage, to anxiety, fear, or other serious emotional distress with violence and suicidal thoughts. Regardless, these experiences greatly limit the social and professional lives of the sufferers.

Causes:

The exact cause of misophonia is unknown, but scientists know that the condition is not a problem with the ears, but rather, related to how sound affects the brain and triggers automatic responses in the body. The specific trigger stimuli for the reactions are usually repetitive and/or social oral sounds that are produced by another person, such as chewing, pen clicking, tapping, and lip smacking, and from which the affected individual cannot escape.

Symptoms:

The symptoms of misophonia usually come on quickly around the ages of 9 and 13. These come on in episodes, and may be described as any of the following:

  • Aggression towards the route of the stimulus
  • Fear
  • Irritation or rage
  • Disgust
  • Depression
  • Social isolation
  • Feelings of skin crawling
  • Suicidal thoughts

Treatments:

Even though misophonia affects daily life, it can be managed by avoiding the trigger sound or by blocking the reflex that occurs. This can be achieved using sound therapy combined with counseling, hearing plugs or aids, antidepressant medication, and an active lifestyle to manage stress. In particular, cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, and Progressive Muscle Relaxation have been successful when applied to misophonia. There are more than a dozen misophonia clinics around the United States that can offer a support system to people affected by the condition.

Making the Connection

Recently, researchers have found that there is a brain connection that sets off the response in people with misophonia. The connection is one that comes from the brain’s hearing center to the orofacial motor cortex, which controls the movement of the mouth, throat, and face. This connection made sense since the sounds that trigger misophonia are typically caused by actions that involve the face (chewing, breathing, etcetera).

The Discovery

Researchers looked at fMRI scans from 75 people, some of which were diagnosed with misophonia and some who were not. The people were studied as they were subjected to misophonia-triggering sounds, generally unpleasant sounds (such as screaming), neutral sounds (such as rainfall), and no noise at all.

From this study, they were able to find the super sensitive connection, and they further found a possible clue as to what triggers misophonia in the brain: a stronger connection between the motor and visual cortex. This means that misophonia may also be set off by visuals as well. 

The Mirror System

The discovery of the visual triggers led researchers to conceive that the communication is activated by the ‘mirror system,’ a system that helps us process movements that other people make by activating our brain in a similar way. This makes it feel as if we made the movement ourselves. Therefore, researchers hypothesized that people with misphonia feel so uncomfortable because the mirroring may feel like an intrusion into the brain.

It is possible that misophonia can be aided by mimicking the triggering action since it will be taking back control. This approach still needs to be better researched to understand how it works, and thus come up with better approaches to treating misophonia.

Misophonia can be extremely detrimental to patient’s everyday lives, and with 6 to 20 percent of the population estimated to have some form of the disease, it is important to keep improving our understanding of it.

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