Does the sound of someone loudly chewing food bother you?  

Misophonia refers to a disorder where people are selectively sensitive to certain sounds. These sounds act as specific triggers such as lip smacking, breathing, chewing, typing, etc. This cause the affected person to react, the reaction itself can just be mild irritation, or it can worsen to rage and even physical aggression

Does the sound of someone loudly chewing food bother you?

Researchers are still studying this disorder, with some studies finding links between misophonia and post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, depression, and anxiety.

Those who have misoponia might describe it as when a sound ‘drives you crazy.’ Their reactions can range from anger and annoyance to panic and the need to flee. The disorder is sometimes called selective sound sensitivity syndrome.

Although scientists have been sceptical about treating this as a disorder in its own right, in 2017, Sukhbinder Kumar, PhD, and his team at Newcastle University, UK, found proof that the emotional responses triggered by sounds for those experiencing misophonia reflect changes in the brain’s frontal lobe.

Running a series of tests on 20 people who appeared to have misophonia, and 22 who did not, Kumar and his team made both groups listen to a series of noises that were either neutral, like the sound of rain; unpleasant, like a baby crying; and triggers for misophonics, like chewing or breathing noises.

While both groups reacted similarly to the pleasant and unpleasant sounds, people with misophonia showed a marked difference in response when they heard the trigger sounds: comparatively, the group experienced an increase in heart rate and increase in skin conductance.

Kumar and his team studied brain scans of all the participants, and noted misophonics also responded to the trigger sounds with heightened activity in certain areas of the brain, including the anterior insular cortex (AIC), which helps us decide what to focus our attention on.

“The AIC is hyper-connected to structures that are involved in emotion regulating and memory,” said Kumar.

These areas include the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC), hippocampus, and amygdala.

Misophonics’ brains also showed thicker insulating myelin sheaths in their vmPFC, which helps nerves carry messages faster.

All of this basically means that those with misophonia have brains that are hyper-alert to particular sounds, and respond with more efficient coordination between regions that control emotion, memory, and the ‘fight or flight’ response.

“For many people with misophonia, this will come as welcome news as, for the first time, we have demonstrated a difference in brain structure and function in sufferers,” added Kumar.

In conclusion, Kumar said, “This study demonstrates the critical brain changes as further evidence to convince a sceptical medical community that this is a genuine disorder.” And it’s totally normal.

How can you treat it?

  • The condition does affect daily life, but you can learn to manage it.
  • Treatment often involves a multidisciplinary approach combining sound therapy by audiologists and supportive counselling in which coping strategies are emphasised.
  • You might try a device like a hearing aid that creates a sound in your ear similar to a waterfall.
  • The noise distracts you from triggers and reduces reactions.
  • Other treatments include talk therapy.
  • Your lifestyle also plays a role.
  • Get regular exercise, plenty of sleep, and manage your stress.
  • You can also wear ear plugs and headsets to tune out sounds.
  • Set up quiet areas or safe spots in your home where no one will make the noises that bother you.

Source: WebMD with inputs from The Swaddle

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