Some people are more sensitive than others and are very annoyed by some environmental stimuli that others seem to go unnoticed. For very sensitive people , bright light, clutter, a stronger smell than usual, or some sounds can be real torture .

There is a special sensitivity called misophonia  that involves an aversion to everyday sounds made by other people, such as chewing, coughing, or swallowing. In fact, these people do not tolerate the sound that other people make when they chew, a problem that affects approximately 20% of the population.

Misophonia: the visceral discomfort that cannot be explained

The sounds that annoy the person suffering from misophonia generally have a very low intensity of the order of 40-50 decibels, which means that they are well below normal conversation, so in many cases they are slightly audible for the rest of people.

But for those who suffer from misophonia, these sounds can be very annoying. Listening to someone chew can lead to stress, irritation and, in extreme cases, even violent anger. For this reason, discussions sometimes take place at a table.

The person with misophonia may ask other diners to chew more slowly and silently, giving comments that you have surely heard or said: ” chew with your mouth closed “, but the person may feel attacked and does not understand how such a low sound can cause so much discomfort. Therefore, he concludes that that person has something against him, is angry for no reason or is bitter for other reasons, and is angry with him.

To avoid arguments, the person with misophonia sometimes prefers to remain silent and may leave the table. But this act also creates irritation from other diners who don’t understand your attitude.

Interestingly, the feeling of unease is an even greater challenge when the sounds are coming from close people. This often creates unusual problems in interpersonal relationships because other people feel rejected.

What are the causes of misophonia?

At the base there is a problem of tolerance to sounds. One hypothesis is that it is a neurological disorder , probably in the structures of the upper central nervous system. It can be caused by damage to the medial prefrontal cortex, or a problem similar to tinnitus, a non-existent sound that is usually caused by damage to the hair cells of the cochlea.

Another hypothesis indicates a correlation between misophonia and obsessive-compulsive disorders, emphasizing the existence of negative experiences associated with these sounds. In practice, this repulsion could come from a small trauma that triggered an excessive response from the amygdala, without control of the prefrontal lobes. Therefore, the person would experience a visceral reaction that is very difficult to control .

In fact, even if the person tries, they cannot stop to hear the sound, reveals a study conducted at the University of California. These neuroscientists have decided to investigate whether the aversion to those sounds was real. To do this, they asked people with misophonia to listen to a series of beeps and assess the level of discomfort that caused them. Another group of people who did not suffer from this problem heard the same sounds and had to indicate if they felt disturbed.

When exposed to sounds, some electrodes measured the electrical conductivity of the skin to detect the level of physiological activation. The results showed that people with misophonia sweated more and showed a higher level of physiological arousal to sounds like chewing gum. However, when they heard the more calming sounds, such as the sound of rain, they did not show this reaction.

Learn to focus on what is positive

There are several strategies for treating misophonia. Before you reach the point of no return when anger takes over, you can reduce the noise. For example, the hum of a running fan, the sound of soothing music, or a device emitting white noise can all be solutions that satisfy everyone.

It would also be convenient to explain to the people you live with, and that they understand that this is not a simple rejection or bad mood, but a real problem that you have to fight every day.

Also, keep in mind that any situation, no matter how bad it may seem, can always have a positive side. A study by Northwestern University psychologists has revealed that the more you are affected by these sounds, the more likely you are a creative genius .

In fact, creativity has been linked to a higher-than-normal level of attention . We all have a sensory input system that has a neurological basis and allows us to eliminate all those unnecessary stimuli so that the brain does not end up congested. However, these psychologists have worked with 84 people and found that those who couldn’t rule out irrelevant stimuli, such as low-intensity ambient sounds, were also more creative .

According to this research, having a sensory input system “that doesn’t leak perfectly” allows us to integrate ideas and concepts that escape attention, leading to more creative solutions in the real world. So, if it is true that misophonia can cause headaches, it can also be an advantage. You just have to learn to control it and take advantage of your attention span.

Dr. Eric Jackson

By Dr. Eric Jackson

Dr. Eric Jackson provides primary Internal Medicine care for men and women and treats patients with bone and mineral diseases, diabetes, heart conditions, and other chronic illnesses. He is a Washington University Bone Health Program physician and is a certified Bone Densitometrist. Dr. Avery is consistently recognized in "The Best Doctors in America" list.

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