The Symptoms & Triggers of Misophonia
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 occasionally to visual triggers). Any sound can become a problem to a person with misophonia but most are some kind of background noise. People call the collection of sounds that they’re sensitive to their trigger set. It is possible to add to one’s trigger set over time.
Exposure to a trigger sound elicits an immediate negative emotional response from a person with sound sensitivities. The 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 in some manner.
People with misophonia are aware that the sounds that trigger them don’t bother other people.
The sound of fingernails on a chalkboard is unpleasant to many people. But this is a very mild example of what people with misophonia experience when exposed to a trigger sound. It lacks the intensity a misophonia sufferer experiences and doesn’t have the strong negative emotional component. 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 nor will it result in producing an actual fight or flight reflex.
The people closest to the person with misophonia often elicit the worst triggers. This can make personal relationships difficult and stressful. An environment known to include trigger sounds can limit social activities when a person with misophonia anticipates a problem. In some cases, a person with misophonia can become socially isolated and pull back from family and friends in an attempt to reduce the associated physical symptoms that they experience when triggered (tension, headache, tightening jaw, stomach issues, etc.).
A person with misophonia does not always have any control over the work environment. 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 social phenomenon. It can have a calming effect and make the situation feel better to the person experiencing stress. There is a biological basis for how mimicry lessens adverse reactions to triggers because it evokes compassion and empathy.
People with misophonia can be reluctant to share their symptoms and triggers with others because sharing can have several different outcomes. Reports from sufferers indicate that sometimes people purposefully mock them with offending noises (at times exaggerating them as well). Also, sometimes family, friends, co-workers and others minimize the problem. A person with misophonia is sometimes told to “just try to ignore that sound,” or “you’re just being difficult,” or “don’t let it get to you.” Suggestions like these are not helpful. And people with misophonia often say that if they could simply choose to ignore their triggers, they would have made that choice a long time ago.
On the other hand, there are those who are supportive and offer encouragement. Anyone with a problem or difficulty appreciates a helping hand now and then. If you know someone with misophonia and want to help them cope with the disorder, all you need to do is ask what you can do to help.
List of common triggers
Please note, some people find that reading about triggers has the potential to make them take on new triggers. Some people also avoid hearing or imagining 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: “ahhs” after drinking, burping, chewing, crunching (ice or other hard food), gulping, gum chewing and popping, kissing sounds, nail biting, silverware scraping teeth or a plate, slurping, sipping, licking, smacking, spitting, sucking (ice, etc), swallowing, talking with food in mouth, tooth brushing, flossing, tooth sucking, lip smacking, wet mouth sounds, grinding teeth, throat clearing and jaw clicking.
Breathing/Nasal: grunting, groaning, screaming, loud or soft breathing, sniffling, snorting, snoring, sneezing, loud or soft talking, raspy voices, congested breathing, hiccups, yawning, nose whistling and wheezing.
Vocal: humming, muffled talking, nasally voices, overused words such as um or ah (repeated words), sibilant sounds (S, P, T, CH, K, B sounds), singing, gravelly voices, bad singing, soft whisper-like voices and whistling.
Environmental: clicking from texting, keyboard/mouse, TV remote, pen clicking, writing sounds, papers rustling/ripping, ticking clocks, texting and cell phone ringtone.
Utensils/metals: dishes clattering, fork scraping teeth, silverware hitting plates or other silverware and rattling change in pockets.
Plastic: water bottle squeezing/crinkling, breaking hard plastic and bouncing balls.
Wrappers: plastic bags crinkling/rustling, plastic bags opening or being rubbed and crinkling food packages.
Cars: sitting idling for long periods of time, beep when car is locked, car doors slamming, keys banging against steering column and turn signal clicking.
Heavy equipment: lawnmowers, leaf blower, air conditioners and chain saws.
Impact sounds: other people’s voices, muffled bass music or TV through walls, doors/windows being slammed and basketball thumps.
Animal noises: dogs barking, bird sounds, crickets, frogs, dogs or cats licking, drinking, slurping, eating, whining, dogs scratching themselves and trying to bite their fleas and claws tapping.
Baby: Baby crying, babbling, adults using baby talk and kids yelling.
TV: loud TV or radio.
Body Movement related: Foot shuffling (dry feet on floor/carpet) or tapping, finger snapping, foot dragging, heels, flip flops, knuckle/joint cracking, eye blinking, nail biting and clipping, eating, chewing, fidgeting, hair twirling, movements out of the corner of eyes, repetitive foot or body movements, jaw chewing/movement.