Wonder Why Noisy Eating Drives You Crazy? Here's the Answer

8 minute read

We’ve all been there: You’re trying to enjoy a delicious meal, but the noises from the next table are just too much. Someone is slurping their soup or crunching their crackers with their mouth wide open, and you just can’t take the sound.  

The good news is that you are not alone. There are a number of people across the globe suffering from a genuine brain abnormality that can causes sounds, like the ones caused by noisy eating, to make your blood boil.

Misophonia Uncovered

Misophonia is a disorder in which you have a true, deep hatred of particular sounds, such as eating loudly, heavy breathing, or even repeated pen-clicking. First identified and labelled in 2001, this genuine brain disorder is part of everyday life for so many people.

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There has been skepticism in the scientific world as to whether this condition is real or not, but recent studies in Newcastle, England have found that a real difference in the brain’s frontal lobe can be identified. Sufferers of misophonia have a distinctively different brain setup from those who can tolerate sounds with ease.

Frontal lobe of the brain

Misophonia is also known as Selective Sound Sensitivity Syndrome, and it always starts with a trigger. Typically the trigger is an oral sound such as chewing or a yawn, but it can also be a repetitive motion like fidgeting or jostling.

Those with more mild reactions will begin to feel anxious, disgusted, or uncomfortable and have an urge to get away from the sound. Those with more severe reactions can experience:

♦ Rage

♦ Anger or hatred

♦ Fear and panic

♦ Emotional distress

♦ Skin crawling

♦ A desire to kill the person making the noise

♦ Suicidal thoughts

This condition can put a real cramp on your social life because you will likely avoid restaurants and may isolate yourself from others when eating at homes. Even worse, there is the real possibility that you could act on what you are feeling.

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Some people have ended up verbally or physically attacking the person responsible for the trigger, they have had a real breakdown, and others have run away from the situation crying.  The disorder has been known to progress to a point at which sufferers may develop visual triggers, too, i.e., the very sight of someone starting to eat will cause problems

A senior woman playing cards with her friends

What the Science Says

The Newcastle study measured the brain activity of people with and without misophonia while they all listened to a variety of sounds. Sounds were categorized as below:

♦ Neutral: Rain, water boiling, a busy coffee shop

Unpleasant: A person screaming, a baby crying

Trigger sounds: Yawning, breathing loudly, eating

Brain imaging revealed that people with this condition do have abnormalities in their emotional control mechanism. This causes their brain to go into overdrive as soon as the trigger sounds are heard.

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The study showed that brain responses and physiological responses were drastically different between misophonia sufferers and non-sufferers. Further testing revealed that the presence of these trigger sounds can also evoke a heightened physiological response with increased heart rate and sweating.  

These results come as welcome news to misophonia sufferers, validating the suffering they have long felt was a real disorder. The proven difference in brain structure and function means that, while they are different, there is nothing really wrong.

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The difference is simply that their processing of the environment around them is just different to those without misophonia.

What Else You Should Know

This condition appears to last for life, and it typically starts between the ages of nine and thirteen. Misophonia is more common among girls and tends to come on quickly without being related to any one particular event.  

Doctors are not entirely sure what causes it, but they do know that it is not a problem associated with your ears. They believe that it is a condition which is both mental and physical as well as possibly relating to how sounds affect your brain.

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Your doctor may have trouble diagnosing the disorder because your ears will be normal and your hearing perfectly intact. Often, because of the difficulty with diagnosing this condition, it has been mistaken for anxiety, bipolar disorder, or obsessive-compulsive disorder.

A woman talking to her husband

There are many physicians and specialists who are working towards getting misophonia classified as a new disorder. With specifications about symptoms as a classified disorder, it may be easier to diagnose moving forward.  

While the condition lasts for life, you can learn to manage it. There are numerous misophonia clinics scattered around the United States that offer sound therapy and psychological counselling.

Additionally, you can try devices similar to hearing aids that create a sound in your ear like a waterfall. This is thought to help distract you from your triggers and will reduce the intensity of your reactions and emotions. Many doctors also recommend talk therapy and a course of antidepressants.  

You can make lifestyle changes to help manage your condition:

♦ Make sure you get regular and restful sleep as well as regular exercise to help manage your stress levels.  

♦ Your reactions when stressed are likely to be exaggerated once a trigger occurs, so wear earplugs or headsets to help drown out noise.

♦ Set up quiet areas in your home where you can feel safe and calm. Ideally those locations should be for you only, so there is nobody else nearby to make the sounds that trigger a reaction.

You can also find support nowadays because this condition is widespread and knowledge of it continues to grow. The Misophonia Institute has chapters across the country that hold annual conventions to bring patients and doctors together.  

A senior woman reading her book on a park bench

The Bottom Line

No you aren't crazy, even if special sounds make you feel that way. Misophonia is a legitimate problem.

The disease does not seem as scary once you realize how many others suffer just as you do.  There is comfort in reaching out to others and sharing survival techniques.

There is no need to suffer in silence or in blood-boiling noises. If you feel you may have this condition, seek advice and treatment right away.  

You can live a normal life both enjoying the sounds you love and managing the ones that you don’t.

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