Misophonia: When Sounds Cause Panic, Rage, Physical Symptoms

Jun 13, 2017

Have you ever been annoyed by everyday sounds like someone tapping fingers on the desk or pens clicking? Some people are not only annoyed by certain sounds but live with a condition where certain sounds, known as trigger sounds actually elicit a feeling of rage and a negative physical response.

Growing up, dinner time with her family was usually painful  for Kamyla Adrlik .

Andrlik: “I was about 7 years old and I was eating dinner with my family one night and it was just kind of out of the blue , I noticed the way that my dad was chewing was really bothering me.”

It was the first time Kamyla remembers feeling completely overwhelmed by a sound.

Just a few years ago the 25-year-old discovered she had misophonia also known as selective sound sensitivity syndrome. Kamyla says certain sounds like people chewing gum or crunching on chips are unbearable. For most of her life family and friends just thought Kamyla was being difficult.

Andrlik: “ I feel like I’m having a panic attack. My heart is racing . My hands are starting to sweat and there’s nothing I want more that to just run away from the sound .”

Lexington Audiologist Dr. Ann Rhoten refers to these as “soft sounds” or “trigger sounds”.

Rhoten: “Usually body noises like sniffing or chewing but sometimes it can be environmental like dogs barking in the distance, clocks ticking, people clicking pens.”

Rhoten who has a doctorate in audiology  says our auditory systems usually tune out soft sounds but they’re supposed to react when there are dangerous sounds .

Rhoten:  “ their auditory system reacts to somebody chewing or sniffing or a pen clicking as if it’s something dangerous like a twig snapping in the woods or somebody coming in your back door in the middle of the night .”

Without some form of sound therapy, relationships, social situations and even going to work, can be challenging.

For patients like Kamyla Andrlik, Dr. Rhoten recommends a table top generator. It’s a small device that plays sounds like  white noise or gentle rain.

Rhoten: “That just is in the back ground to enrich the environment to make any trigger noises less noticeable.”

Kamyla uses one at work and family functions. She also wears what look like hearing aids but Dr. Rhoten calls them” ear level sound generators.” They basically play white noise in her ears.

Kamyla: “What we try to do is take sounds that don’t bother me and try to fill that in the space so that my brain chooses to focus on the sounds that my brain likes .”

There’s not much data on misophonia according to Dr. Christopher Spankovich,  audiologist with the Department of Otolaryngology at the University of Mississippi Medical Center. But the issue doesn’t seem to be a problem with the patients’ hearing. The term misophonia coined in early 2000 means “hatred of sound” . Spankovich says that’s the literal interpretation of the word.

Spankovich: “Rather they have a robust emotional response to the sound, that can also have anger associated with it. Basically almost like an emotional outburst to these specific sets of sounds.”

In a recent study from Newcastle University in England researchers found that part of the brain for people with misophonia  goes into overdrive causing a fight-or-flight response .

Still it’s not known how many people have the condition. And only a few small studies indicate it’s more prevalent in females.

Kamyla Adrlik says  after years of not knowing, finding out she had misophonia was emotional.

Kamyla:  “I was crying because I was just relieved that for the first time in 20 years I was justified. I felt like there was something more than just me being difficult.”

For now there’s no cure for misophonia but  new research,  sound based therapy and counseling offer hope for people with this life altering condition.