What is misophonia?
Misophonia is an extreme reaction to sounds that others would either not notice, or about which they would only feel mild irritation.
The term translates as 'hatred' (miso) and 'sound' (phonia).
How to recognise misophonia
The condition typically begins around the age of 10-12, and the sounds most often triggering reactions are concerned with eating and breathing. The kinds of sound that might be mildly aggravating to most of us, but which in someone with misophonia can give rise to extreme distress often include eating noisily, knocking a utensil against the teeth, audible breathing, yawning or even whistling.
Reactions to these 'trigger' sounds can be extreme, with the commonest being extreme rage. More rarely, people with misophonia can experience murderous feelings towards the perpetrator of the sound, and some will flee the vicinity altogether, unable to withstand their own reaction.
In extreme cases, people begin to associate the sounds with the actions leading up to making them, and their anticipation alone can trigger an outburst.
Getting a diagnosis
Because the syndrome was only officially recognised in 2001, many medical practitioners are still either unaware of it or inexperienced in understanding or diagnosing it. Still, it's important to seek help and to encourage your GP to identify a consultant who understands the syndrome in order to get a diagnosis. This alone can prove helpful to people with the condition.
How is the condition treated?
Although there's currently no cure, and a really effective treatment is a long way from being discovered, there are some therapies and solutions that can help. Some people have reported short-term relief from treatments such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), hypnotherapy and tinnitus retraining therapy (TRT).
Treatment options are being explored in the US, and there are some behind-the-ear headphones available there that are virtually invisible and which play white noise at low levels as a distraction from the main triggers, but these are currently expensive.
Impact on relationships
To help understand the level of anxiety a person with misophonia experiences when exposed to trigger sounds (or visual cues), imagine the sound of fingernails scraping down a blackboard. To most people, this sound is intolerable – and yet, the discomfort experienced by most of us doesn't even come close to the effect a trigger sound would have on a person with the syndrome.
Because the people most likely to cause distress are close family and friends – because these are the people with whom they spend most of their social time – it's easy to imagine the impact misophonia can have on relationships. Even the workplace can be a challenge unless people can find ways of avoiding triggers, such as working in an isolated space or by wearing open-ear headphones.
Before diagnosis, sufferers often report that friends and family are unsympathetic to their level of discomfort, but even after they have been diagnosed, the impact on relationships is hardly lessened. It's important that both people with the condition and their close friends and family are as sympathetic to each other as possible in order to avoid relationship breakdowns. It's also important that each party has some respite from the other, however this can be managed.