What is Misophonia? The Not-So-Silent Disorder

Turn off this annoying music, man hates noises Distressed and disturbed handsome guy, cringe and grimacing from bother, close ears, stooping, feel discomfort from loud noise

Last Updated on

April 30th, 2024 09:24 am

Did you know that one in five people are so averse to loud noises that it hinders their everyday life? For many living with Misophonia, even the most basic tasks can become near impossible to complete if a specific sound is disrupting their mindset.

So let’s take a closer look at Misophonia and why this mysterious psychiatric disorder is affecting so many people and their everyday lives.

What is Misophonia?

The definition of Misophonia is often vague. In fact, it was only in 2022 that a consensus definition was reached amongst professionals. But Misophonic Disorder, or Sound Sensitivity Syndrome as it’s sometimes known, is a poorly understood sensory processing disorder characterized by extreme negative emotions triggered by a hatred of noise. Sufferers are often unable to control their physiological reactions to certain noises and auditory stimuli.

A person with Misophonia may experience strong emotional reactions from sound sensitivities that vary from person to person. These include intense anger, anxiety, disgust, fear, sadness, and even body reactions causing physical pain. While some people feel better when around loud noise that masks quieter triggers, others become enraged by adding more annoying sounds and would rather sit in silence.

For some, this comes hand-in-hand with a heightened response to audiovisual stimuli as well as low sound tolerance. Some may find that visual stimuli distract from the aversive sounds and background noise, while others, especially those with comorbid conditions such as Autism Spectrum Disorder or Generalized Anxiety Disorder, may find it adds to the sensory overload.

Symptoms of Misophonia

Misophonia symptoms typically include feeling annoyed, irritated, disgusted or angry when exposed to everyday sound triggers. Misophonic triggers include chewing noises, breathing deeply, eating food, talking too loudly, laughing, crying, sneezing, coughing, or clicking sounds. It’s the strong physical reflex and emotional reflex that means it’s often labeled as an explosive disorder.

People with misophonia may experience negative physical responses as well as mental reactions. Examples of both include anxiety, fear, panic attacks, depression, insomnia, headaches, stomach aches, nausea, dizziness, muscle tension, fatigue, tinnitus, ringing ears, and vertigo.

These symptoms can affect all aspects of their daily life, from work and study to social life. Sometimes these misophonic responses are so extreme that mental health issues develop as a result of triggers impacting their ability to undertake important tasks.

Common Life Triggers

The most common trigger of a misophonic reaction is hearing another person make noise. For example, you might hear someone chew gum while sat next to you on the bus, or laugh during a movie. You might notice that you become irritated when you hear someone yawning or blowing their nose.

Other Misophonia triggers include motor sounds such as someone tapping their fingers, or oral sounds such as lip-smacking, breathing, and chewing. Masking these unpleasant sounds helps alleviate some side effects, but not in every case.

What a Hatred of Sound Feels Like

Many people who experience an extreme sensitivity to sound don’t even realize they have it. But those who do say they’re feeling very isolated and distressed. They describe these noises as extremely unpleasant or annoying, and experiencing physical symptoms of anxiety.

Some report being triggered by repetitive sounds such as tapping fingers against desks, or even breathing. Others are triggered by specific noises, including chewing gum popping, crying babies, barking dogs, or slamming doors.

In some cases, a visual trigger without sound can cause a similar reaction, as the brain “fills in the auditory gaps”. Take the door slamming example. If someone sees a door slam on a TV program while the sound is muted, they may react similarly to if the audio was on.

People who suffer from misophonic symptoms usually describe themselves as being under constant attack from triggers. They might say things like, “I’m always angry,” or “My brain feels like it’s exploding.” Others describe having a sense of impending doom, or feeling like they’re constantly under attack. The physiological response can feel like the fight-or-flight response is constantly switched on as a result, and thus be exhausting.

red and white firework display in night sky

Fireworks can be a huge noise trigger for sufferers of Misophonia

What Causes Misophonia?

There are many theories about what might cause Misophonia, including genetics, brain chemistry, and even environmental factors like stress. But scientists don’t know exactly why it happens.

Some researchers think that misophonia could be caused by abnormal connections between parts of the brain responsible for processing sound and those involved in emotions, otherwise known as the auditory cortex. Others believe that there may be a link to serotonin levels, while some suggest that misophonia’s relationship with the auditory cortex is closely linked to anxiety disorders.

Most sufferers report having had strong reactions to common sounds in their daily life since childhood (Pediatric Misophonia), though some say they developed a later diagnosis because of trauma.

Co-Morbid Mental Disorders and Compulsive Disorders

Misophonia is known to be comorbid with many other chronic conditions and mental disorders as well as neurodevelopmental disorders such as Autism and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). These include Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD).

Treatments for Misophonia

There’s no known cure for misophonia, but some neurodivergent people find relief in treatment of Misophonia that helps reduce the intensity of their reaction to trigger sounds. These include Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, medication, and noise masking devices.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

CBT teaches patients how to identify triggers and learn coping strategies. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is used for a variety of personality disorders including Comorbid Obsessive-Compulsive Spectrum Disorder and Bipolar Disorder (BPD). CBT doesn’t “cure” misophonic reactions in Autistic people, but rather teaches coping strategies to mitigate negative behavioral responses as they occur and turn them into something more positive.


Some medications can help calm emotional responses and negative reactions that come with sensory sensitivities. That’s especially the case for anxiety-based conditions such as PTSD, Bipolar Disorder, and Comorbid Obsessive-Compulsive Spectrum Disorder, where sound triggers a trauma response and increased brain activity.

Sound Masking Devices

In recent years, sound masking devices have appeared on the market such as the Flare Audio Calmer earbuds that offer a life-changing experience by reshaping the ear canal. These earbuds are designed to filter out triggering frequencies from reaching the auditory cortex whilst keeping a level of volume that makes everyday life manageable.

It has a similar effect to those who use neutral sounds such as white noise to mask symptoms of Misophonia. In this way, the filtering of frequencies can also help with conditions that affect daily functioning such as Tinnitus.

Misophonia Doesn’t Have to Drive You Crazy

With the right help and support, children and adults with Misophonia can enhance their quality of life, whether that’s through CBT, sound therapy, or using a product like the Flare Audio Calmer earbuds.

The very nature of misophonia means everyone’s reaction to sensory stimuli are different, so it’s vital for us all to communicate and be respectful of the demands of others, no matter how irrational we feel they may be to ourselves.

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Rob Butler
30-Something Millennial with ADHD and suspected Autistic and Dyspraxic. Thought leader behind this website. Big visions of a better future for everyone, but forgets where he is half the time.Loves Rugby, his kids, and anything silly. Hates U2 and Marmite.

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