If you are extremely overwhelmed by the sounds of heavy breathing or pen clicking, you are not alone. A new study suggests that nearly one in five adults in the United Kingdom have misophonia.
Misophonia is characterized by an adverse emotional or autonomic reaction to specific everyday sounds, such as typing, chewing, slurping, or breathing. Most people ignore them, but the sounds may provoke a fight-or-flight reaction in those with misophonia, usually in response to events perceived as harmful or threatening survival.
There are few studies on misophonia, which is not an officially recognized condition. To find out how common the disorder is, researchers at King's College London recruited 772 people who live in the U.K. Of those, only 13.6% were aware of the term misophonia, and 2.3% identified as having the disorder.
The participants were asked to use the S-Five scale, which stands for selective sound sensitivity syndrome scale, to assess the trigger sounds and their response. While loud chewing or snoring caused negative emotional responses in many, reactions to normal breathing, footsteps, and swallowing indicated higher levels of misophonia.
The study, published in PLOS ONE, also discovered that people with misophonia experienced anger and panic after hearing specific sounds, whereas irritation was a more common reaction in others.
Among 25 of the S-Five scale statements, the most highly endorsed were those referring to "externalizing appraisals," such as "others should avoid making noises" or "others have bad manners." The least supported statements were related to being verbally aggressive and violent or referred to specific impacts, such as "do not meet friends" and "limited job opportunities."
Of 772 participants, 142 met the threshold for significant misophonia. The authors concluded that 18.4% of the U.K. population experiences misophonia to the extent that it causes a significant burden. Moreover, the condition was found to be equally common in men and women but tended to be less severe with age.
The researchers did not find strong associations between depression and anxiety and the severity of misophonia, suggesting that it is not part of other disorders.
Jane Gregory, Clinical psychologist at the Department of Experimental Psychology, University of Oxford, and a senior author, says: "The experience of misophonia is more than just being annoyed by a sound. Misophonia can cause feelings of helplessness and being trapped when people can't get away from an unpleasant sound. Often those with misophonia feel bad about themselves for reacting the way they do, especially when they are responding to sounds made by loved ones. More research is needed to understand what causes misophonia and how we can help those people whose symptoms disrupt their day to day lives."
While misophonia can profoundly impact daily life and relationships, help is available. You can find more information about misophonia clinics and possible therapies here.
- PLOS One. Misophonia in the UK: Prevalence and norms from the S-Five in a UK representative sample.
- King's College London. New study finds nearly 1 in 5 people in the UK find everyday sounds intolerable.
- National Library of Medicine. Misophonia and Potential Underlying Mechanisms: A Perspective.