What Is Misophonia?

Misophonia is a severe sensitivity to specific soft sounds.  When a person hears the sounds, the person has a very strong emotional reaction such as hate, anger, anxiety, rage, and resentment.  People who suffer with misophonia generally report that they feel the person is intentionally making the sound, even though when they are calm and away from the sound, they acknowledge that the conclusion at that time was not accurate.

A person experiencing misophonia generally has excellent hearing. It is not a sensitivity to the volume of sound, but an emotional and physiological reaction to specific sounds.  At first it is generally the sounds of specific individuals that cause the reaction, but it usually spreads to the sounds made by others and to additional sounds.  The chewing sound of a friend may be annoying, while the chewing sound of a parent elicits (forces automatically) a strong reaction and is intolerable.

The misophonic reaction appears to be an involuntary reflex caused by the sound.  The sound directly activates the Autonomic Nervous System which is located in the brain stem and the Limbic System which is associated with emotion.  This  is a direct connection between the sound and a reflex reaction.  Think of the sound as causing the same reaction as a hard poke in the ribs with a stick.

Behavior science explains this physiological reaction as a “respondent” or “reflex” behavior that has been acquired or developed by pairing the sound with a distressed (stress, anxiety, etc.)  physiological condition.  When these two things happen at the same time (distress and the sound), it creates neurological wiring in the brain that causes the misophonia reaction when the sound is heard again. I call this an acquired reflex because it is not an innate or inborn reaction (did not exist at birth).  It is a reflex because it is a direct connection from a sense (hearing) to the Autonomic Nervous System and the Lymbic System.

Misophonia seems to occur more frequently in a person with a higher level of anxiety, stress, or compulsive behavior.  The reaction often develops first to a parent or family member where the person has a high level of anxiety or distress (physiological state of distress) and they repeatedly hear the sound.  It also seems to happen when a person cannot escape from the sound, such as at the dinner table,  in a car, or even laying in bed.

With most sounds, the sound is taken into the brain and then the person makes a thoughtful response.  The person considers the meaning of the sound and then responds.  This is called a “high road” response. (It goes through the higher part of the brain before the person reacts.)  For example, a person says to you, “I hate you.”  You have to first think about the words and the meaning.  You then respond based on the meaning.  In this case, if words are a reply to “Your feet stink,” then you know it is a joking or name calling contest, and you don’t have a negative emotional response.  If you perceive the person is serious and the person is important to you, then you may have a strong, negative emotional response, such as crying.

Once the misophonic response is established for one sound, other sounds seem to be added over time.  Because of this, those with misophonia often have a number of sounds that cause the reflex reaction, and it may impact many aspects of their lives.  Without treatment, the prognosis for misophonia is grim.  The misophonic responses usually get worse and worse, and the negative impact on the person’s life gets progressively greater.

But…  There is reason for hope.  Tom Dozier has developed a breakthrough treatment method that has drastically reduced the misophonic responses in the first few patients.  To date, the reactions have not been completely eliminated, but they have been drastically reduced.  This new method of treatment appears to be a restoration of health for about 50% of patients, such that misophonia does not have a debilitating effect on the person and their life.

For more information this new treatment methods, see the page on New Treatment for Misophonia or contact a treatment provide (see Treatment Providers page).


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