Tuesday, August 22

Coping with Misophonia: Dealing with Everyday Noises That Upset You

If you find yourself getting bothered by sounds like chewing, sniffling, heavy breathing, and more, you may be experiencing misophonia. This surprisingly common condition can be challenging to manage, but there are ways to cope with it.

For some individuals, hearing their spouse slurping, a colleague cracking their joints, or a friend clearing their throat can be more than just annoying. These everyday sounds, along with snoring, sniffling, loud chewing, yawning, and heavy breathing, can trigger feelings of agitation, rage, or disgust.

This aversion is a characteristic of misophonia, a sensory processing disorder that elicits an exaggerated emotional response to sounds made by others. According to a study published in the journal PLOS One, nearly one in five adults experience this condition, with women generally having more intense reactions than men.

Dr. Michael Mufson, a psychiatrist and director of the Complex Diagnostic Center at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women's Hospital, explains that individuals with misophonia "can't stand to be in the room with those sounds" and often try to avoid such situations, although it is often challenging to do so.

It's not uncommon to have never heard of misophonia before, as only 14% of participants in the study were aware of the diagnosis. However, as the stigma surrounding the condition diminishes, more people are coming forward with their experiences. Dr. Mufson notes that misophonia is no longer a hidden disorder.

The causes of misophonia remain unclear, but a 2022 study in Frontiers in Neuroscience suggests that it may have a unique "neural signature" associated with a specific pattern of nerves in the brain. While older adults may have had misophonia for most of their lives, they may not have disclosed it due to the stigma surrounding the condition. Additionally, misophonia can develop at any age.

Before diagnosing misophonia, doctors carefully rule out other conditions that may present similar symptoms or overlap with it. These include obsessive-compulsive disorder, bipolar disorder, other sensory processing disorders, affective dysregulation, Asperger's syndrome, anxiety disorders, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Everyone with misophonia may have different sound triggers and varying degrees of aversion. Regardless, those affected often blame themselves for missing out on activities that others can enjoy effortlessly. Feeling trapped and helpless when unable to escape irritating sounds, some individuals with misophonia may even exhibit physical or verbal aggression.

While misophonia has long gone unnoticed, treatment options are expanding. A comprehensive approach combining behavior-based therapies with medication is commonly used by doctors. According to Dr. Mufson, misophonia is not a disorder without hope.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is emerging as a promising treatment for misophonia. A small 2020 study published in Depression and Anxiety found that over a third of participants who underwent CBT reported improvements in their misophonia symptoms and their ability to function socially and within their families. The benefits were still noticeable a year later.

In CBT, therapists work with patients to identify their specific sound triggers and develop new responses. Strategies and coping mechanisms are devised to interrupt feelings of rage and anxiety. In cases of severe anxiety, medication may be incorporated to help individuals feel and function better.

People with misophonia can also alleviate their sound aversions by using earplugs or headphones, utilizing white noise machines, or practicing deep breathing and muscle relaxation techniques.

If you know someone with misophonia, it's crucial not to criticize their symptoms. Encourage them to seek treatment and offer support. Brief, supportive counseling can empower them to understand that they are not "crazy" and help them make the decision to seek professional help.

No content on this site, regardless of date, should be used to replace direct medical advice from your doctor or another trained practitioner.
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