Symptoms and Triggers

The literal definition of misophonia is hatred of sound but a person with misophonia does not simply hate all sound. People with misophonia have specific symptoms and triggers and are sensitive to only certain sounds and are occasionally sensitive to visual triggers as well. These problematic sounds are usually in the background but any sound or noise can become a problem to a person with misophonia. Other people do not seem to take notice of the sounds that negatively affect people with misophonia. The collection of sounds/sights that a person is sensitive to can be referred to as their trigger set. Sounds/sights may be added to this dynamic collection over time.

When a person with misophonia is exposed to a sound in their trigger set, it results in an immediate negative emotional response. This response can range from moderate discomfort to acute annoyance or go all the way up to full-fledged rage and panic. Fight or flight reactions can occur. While experiencing a trigger event, a person may become agitated, defensive or offensive, distance themselves from the trigger or possibly act out and express anger or rage at the source of the offending sound.

To help a non-affected person understand the impact misophonia has on someone with the disorder, they might be asked to imagine how they feel and react when they hear the sound of fingernails being scraped down a chalk board. Most people dislike this sound and will probably ask the person to stop! However, this example falls short of reaching the intensity a misophonia sufferer experiences and lacks the strong negative emotional component that is elicited. Not liking something (even if very strongly) is unlikely to cause a person to feel like lashing out at the source of the offending sound or result in an actual fight or flight reflex.

Often, it is the people who are the closest to the person with misophonia who elicit the worst triggers. As one can imagine, this can make personal relationships difficult or at the least, produce some amount of stress. A person with misophonia may anticipate having a problem in an environment known to include trigger sounds which can result in limited social activities. Taken to an extreme, a person with misophonia can become socially isolated and pull back from family and friends in an attempt to reduce the stress brought on by exposure to their triggers sounds.

The workplace can become an issue when a person with misophonia is put into a position in which they have little input in shaping the environment in which they will be asked to work. A coworker munching on food may be too distracting or could produce a full-fledged panic attack. An environment that will not or cannot accommodate the needs of a sound sensitive person can result in anxiety for the person with misophonia and challenges for supervisory staff. At times, the sound environment can be enough of a problem to make keeping the job intolerable. A school environment can be similar; having a long-term negative impact if it interferes with the ability to learn or socialize.

When exposed to a trigger sound, some people feel the need to mimic what they hear. Mimicry is an automatic, non-conscious, and social phenomenon. It can have a calming effect and make the situation feel better to the person experiencing stress. Mimicking is known to evoke compassion and empathy and there is a biological basis for how mimicry lessens adverse reactions to triggers.

People with misophonia can be reluctant  to share their symptoms and triggers with others because sharing can have several different outcomes. A person’s friends and family will need to be educated about what misophonia is and its affects on a person with this disorder. Once made aware, they may be supportive or become part of the problem. Some insensitive people can be dismissive of the disorder and sufferers have reported being mocked and have had people purposefully make offending noises (at times exaggerating them as well). A person with misophonia may be told to “get over it,” “stop being so difficult,” or told to “grow up.” Obviously, these reactions do not help the stress experienced because of a person’s sound sensitivity problem.

There are people who want to help you cope with misophonia.

Help can be realized by changing the environment or reducing the incidence of trigger sounds. Supportive friends, family members, coworkers and others can make a big difference in helping manage symptoms and triggers.

People with misophonia can also be conflicted about confiding in people about their sound sensitivity disorder because they feel guilt centered around their actions/reactions or don’t want to be perceived as limited in some manner. However, by not disclosing sound sensitivities, there is a risk of contusing people and having misunderstandings about one’s needs and behaviors. Many people with misophonia don’t even know that other people have the same problems they do. When they find out there is an actual name for their “sound problems” they’re often very surprised and amazed that they are not alone.

There are different levels of sensitivity to individualized trigger sets. One might evaluate the level of involvement observed and consider to what degree does misophonia affect quality of life. Keeping a journal while first learning about misophonia may be a helpful tool.

Girls hair blown away by megaphone

Below are some examples of many common triggers. Please note, some people find that reading about triggers has the potential to make them take on new triggers. Even more people avoid hearing sample trigger sounds for the same reason. If you think that learning about new trigger sounds could in any way be a problem for you, then there’s no need to read the lists below.

Mouth and Eating

Breathing/Nasal

Vocal

Environmental

Body Movement related

Visual (sound related)

Visual (not necessarily sound related)
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