What is misophonia? - Autism Awareness

What is misophonia?

Misophonia is an extreme sensitivity to certain sounds such as chewing, pen tapping, sniffling, throat clearing, or scratching.  Its main symptom is a strong negative reaction when hearing triggering sounds. Small sounds can be unbearable and cause a fight or flight response to these triggering sounds. Some sound triggers may cause such distress that a person will avoid situations where they may hear these sounds. For example, if someone is hypersensitive to chewing noises, a person may prefer to eat their meals alone or avoid public places where people eat like a café or restaurant.

Misophonia is not listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). Some experts consider misophonia itself a condition, while others believe it may develop as a symptom of other mental health conditions. In one of the largest studies to date with 575 subjects, 59% of people with misophonia did not have any other condition or disorder. The study found that around 3% of misophonia subjects had autism, 5% had ADHD, and 2.8% had OCD. Another interesting finding from this study showed that 68% of the subjects with misophonia also had misokinesia which is a sensitivity to visual movements, such as face touching or fidgeting.

What are the symptoms of misophonia?

Misophonia’s main symptom is a strong negative reaction when hearing triggering sounds. It may cause a person to:

  • feel annoyed, irritated or disgusted
  • feel rage, anger, or become aggressive (can include lashing out verbally or physically)
  • be nervous or anxious in situations where triggering sounds may be heard
  • feel anxious or panicked, including feelings of being trapped or losing control
  • have tightness or pressure throughout the body or chest
  • have increased blood pressure, heart rate, and body temperature

Misophonia starts in the preteen – teen years. It may disrupt daily life quite a bit if a person needs to avoid situations where they may hear upsetting sounds. This may mean avoiding friends and family, or frequently missing work and school.

What are some of the common sound triggers?

Sounds that trigger a person will vary widely. While misophonia begins in response to one specific sound, other sounds might eventually trigger a similar reaction. Heathline website has this list of common triggers:

Oral sounds made by other people such as:

  • chomping or crunching
  • slurping
  • swallowing
  • loud breathing
  • throat clearing
  • lip smacking

Other triggers may include:

  • sniffling
  • writing sounds
  • pen clicking
  • rustling of papers or fabric
  • clocks ticking
  • shoes scuffing
  • glasses or silverware clinking
  • nail filing or clipping
  • mechanical humming and clicking
  • birds or crickets chirping
  • animal grooming sounds

Visual triggers can cause a similar reaction. This might happen seeing someone who is:

  • wagging or jiggling their legs or feet
  • rubbing their nose
  • twirling their hair or pen
  • chewing with an open mouth
  • moving their lips or jaw in a chewing motion

People with misophonia might notice that making the same sound themselves typically doesn’t provoke any reaction at all. Some find that mimicking the triggering sounds can help alleviate the distress they cause.

What causes misophonia?

No one is sure what causes misophonia yet and more research is needed in this area. It does appear more commonly in persons with anxiety disorders, OCD, Tourette Syndrome or tinnitus (ringing in the ears). While misophonia seems to be its own condition, it definitely has some overlap with other conditions, including similar symptoms.

Unique characteristics of misophonia include the following:

  • Begins in puberty (age 9 – 12)
  • Women tend to report more severe symptoms.
  • The initial trigger often comes from a parent or family member, but new triggers can develop over time.
  • It often runs in families.

How are the symptoms of misophonia managed?

If a person can’t leave the situation/area where the triggers are, they can try:

  • using noise-canceling headphones
  • listening to music, calming sounds such as sounds in nature like falling rain, or white noise
  • distraction with a calming mantra or affirmation
  • politely asking the person making the sound to stop

Raising interoceptive awareness may also help a person to recognize anxious or panicked feelings around triggering sounds and then be able to develop calming techniques. Low Arousal Approaches can lessen the flight or fight response and reduce stress if signs of arousal mechanisms becoming engaged are spotted early. More information on misophonia coping strategies can be found here.

Where can I find more support and information about misophonia?

For more support, see the following resources:

Allergic to Sound

International Misophonia Research

Misophonia Awareness Facebook Page

Misophonia Institute

Misophonia International

Misosphonia Provider Network


Understanding Misophonia: When Everyday Sounds Cause Distress – Healthline


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