What is it called when you can’t listen to someone chew?

The condition of being unable to tolerate the sound of other people chewing or eating is called misophonia. Misophonia literally means “hatred of sound” and describes when certain sounds, like chewing, tapping, or breathing, trigger strong negative emotions and physiological responses.

What are the symptoms of misophonia?

People with misophonia have strong adverse reactions to certain sounds known as “trigger” sounds. The most common trigger sounds are the noise generated by people eating, chewing, crunching, slurping, popping gum, or clicking pens. Other sounds like typing on a keyboard, tapping feet, ticking clocks, or breathing heavily can also act as misophonia triggers.

When exposed to one of their trigger sounds, people with misophonia often experience:

  • Feelings of anxiety, irritation, anger, or rage
  • Increased heart rate, blood pressure, and sweating
  • Tightening of facial and shoulder muscles
  • Strong urge to escape the sound or stop it from continuing

The severity of symptoms can range from mild annoyance to full “fight-or-flight” responses. Misophonics may react in ways like confronting the sound source, mimicking the sound, or having outbursts of anger when hearing trigger noises. They may also isolate themselves to avoid potential trigger sounds.

What causes misophonia?

Researchers are still working to understand the underlying mechanisms behind misophonia. Some theories include:

  • Hyperconnectivity between auditory and limbic systems: Brain scans reveal people with misophonia have excessive connections between regions that process sounds and emotions. This causes a heightened emotional response to certain noises.
  • Abnormal auditory processing: People with misophonia may have differences in how their brains filter, prioritize, and assign meaning to sounds. Certain noises become labeled as dangerous or annoying.
  • Conditioning and association: If chewing sounds were paired with a traumatic event or occurred frequently during childhood, they may trigger strong emotions through conditioning.
  • General hyper-reactivity: People with misophonia tend to be more sensitive to sensory stimuli. Their brains may have lower neurological thresholds for marking sounds as irritating or distressing.

There also appears to be a genetic component, as misophonia tends to run in families. Certain gene variations affecting neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine may predispose people to developing this condition.

Who gets misophonia?

Misophonia typically begins in late childhood or the early teen years, though cases have been documented in children as young as 4 years old. It appears to be more common in girls and women than boys and men.

Estimates on the prevalence of misophonia range from about 5% to 20% of the population. However, many people with mild symptoms may not realize they meet the criteria for misophonia or seek treatment.

People with the following conditions seem to be more likely to have misophonia or heightened sound sensitivities:

  • Autism spectrum disorder
  • Tourette syndrome
  • Sensory processing disorder
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Anxiety disorders

How is misophonia diagnosed?

There are no laboratory tests to diagnose misophonia. A doctor will evaluate a patient’s symptoms and medical history to rule out other conditions that could be causing sound sensitivities, like hearing loss or auditory processing disorders.

To meet diagnostic criteria for misophonia, a person must experience all of the following:

  • Trigger sounds like chewing or tapping provoke an immediate aversive reaction like disgust or anger
  • Exposure to trigger noises causes significant distress, anxiety, or impairment in daily functioning
  • Reactions are not explained by another medical or psychological disorder

Keeping a symptom journal tracking reactions to different sounds can help identify patterns to discuss with a doctor. Some doctors may use questionnaires like the Amsterdam Misophonia Scale to quantify levels of reactivity.

How is misophonia treated?

Currently there are no medications specifically approved to treat misophonia. Some antidepressants like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) may help reduce sound sensitivities in some cases, but more research is needed.

The mainstays of misophonia management involve psychotherapy techniques like:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): Helps identify and modify negative thoughts and physical responses to triggers through techniques like exposure therapy.
  • Relaxation exercises: Stress reduction through deep breathing, meditation, mindfulness, and progressive muscle relaxation to calm the body’s fight-or-flight response.
  • Coping strategies: Avoiding, mimicking, or masking trigger sounds; using earplugs or headphones; providing a soothing competing sound.

Multisensory therapies that simultaneously engage sight, sound, and touch may also show promise in retraining the brain’s connections involving misophonia trigger sounds.

What is the outlook for people with misophonia?

There is no cure for misophonia, but the symptoms can be managed with a combination of therapies, lifestyle changes, and coping strategies. With time and practice, people can learn to control their fight-or-flight reactions to sounds and prevent their misophonia from severely impacting daily activities and relationships.

Some key tips for living with misophonia include:

  • Be open with family and friends about your condition so they understand it is a medical issue and not simply being irritable
  • Carry earplugs or noise-canceling headphones to muffle triggering sounds as needed
  • Take breaks from noisy environments when feeling overwhelmed
  • Identify misophonia triggers and make a plan to manage exposure to them
  • Reduce stress through self-care practices like exercise, meditation, or spending time doing enjoyable activities
  • Join a support group to share advice and coping methods with others experiencing misophonia

While living with misophonia may always involve some challenges, the right lifestyle adjustments and treatment approaches can help prevent it from severely impacting quality of life.

Frequently Asked Questions

What percentage of people have misophonia?

There are no definitive statistics on the prevalence of misophonia, but estimates range from about 5% to 20% of the population. Many people may have mild or moderate forms that go unrecognized.

At what age does misophonia start?

Misophonia typically begins in childhood or the early teen years, between the ages of 9 and 13. However, cases have been documented in children as young as 4 years old.

Can misophonia get worse with age?

The symptoms of misophonia often fluctuate over time. Some people find their sound sensitivities get worse with age, while others experience improvements, especially if they are actively working on management techniques.

What is the best treatment for misophonia?

Cognitive behavioral therapy is considered the most effective misophonia treatment to help identify triggers, change reactions to sounds, and develop healthy coping strategies. Anti-anxiety medications like SSRIs may provide added benefit in some cases.

What causes misophonia to develop?

The underlying causes are still being researched, but contributing factors likely involve hyperconnectivity between auditory processing and emotional centers of the brain, abnormal sound filtering, genetic predispositions, and conditioning/associations of certain noises with trauma or distress.

The Bottom Line

Misophonia is a complex and often misunderstood condition in which common sounds like chewing and tapping trigger disproportionately strong disgust, anxiety, or anger. Research into the root causes and development of effective management approaches is still in early stages. But with a combination of education, therapy, lifestyle changes, and support, people with misophonia can learn to lessen its impact on their lives.

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