From the scraping of nails on a chalkboard to whatever it is that your annoying neighbors are doing upstairs, sounds can definitely be unpleasant. But these aural stimuli can be more than merely irritating - they can be misophonia triggers. For people who have an intense hatred of certain sounds, a seemingly innocuous disturbance can send them into a blind rage.
What is misophonia? It's a disorder that was recognized by the Current Biology journal in 2001 as a genuine brain abnormality. Misophonia causes sufferers to feel anger at sounds that can include chewing, loud breathing, or the clicking of a pen.
For now, there's no known misophonia treatment. However, specialists like psychologists may be able to help misophonia sufferers cope with the stress of hearing certain sounds.
Research on misophonia is still in the early stages, so there's a lot of misinformation swirling about the condition. For instance, just because you're annoyed by loud chewing doesn't mean that you have misophonia. Researchers have discovered that sufferers of the condition aren't just annoyed - their brains actually go into overdrive when they hear certain sounds.
A team from Newcastle University in the United Kingdom has been researching misophonia via brain imaging, and found that misophonia sufferers have an abnormality in the emotional control mechanism. So, when they hear a trigger sound, their brains overreact. The same researchers also found that sufferers had slight differences in their frontal lobes, a part of the brain that normally suppresses abnormal reaction to sounds.
Someone's eating crackers, someone's hitting their keyboard keys especially hard, someone's mouth breathing. Whatever the trigger sound, it can prompt a physical response in the misophonia suffer. They might feel tightness or pain in their chest, and could experience an increased heart rate and sweating as well.
The triggering sounds also incur a fight-or-flight response; many people with misophonia leave the room when their condition kicks in to avoid confrontation.
According to its textbook definition, misophonia is a condition causing a person to react extremely negatively to certain sounds that most people take little or no notice of. It's often inaccurately referred to as "chewing rage," as one of most common sounds to aggravate this condition is loud eating.
However, misophonia isn't limited to chewing, or merely to body sounds, for that matter. Noises caused by fans, birds, and windshield wipers can trigger a response as well.
There are five main categories of trigger sounds for misphonia, as defined by Dr. Dean McKay, the President of the Society for a Science of Clinical Psychology. These sounds are: mouth sounds like chewing, breathing noises, vocal noises like humming, body movements like knuckle cracking and lastly, miscellaneous noises like pen-clicking and food wrapper crackling.