Sounds That Make You Cringe

By Karyn Ostrem and Avery Johnson

What is a sound that drives you nuts? Do your siblings make it to annoy you? For some people, certain sounds are more than just annoying. People who have misophonia have strong reactions to specific noises, such as chewing, loud breathing, or typing, that makes it hard for them to not get angry. It does not have to be loud, but when others make certain noises, those who have misophonia may become nervous, angry, or afraid. They may feel like their skin is crawling or like they want to run away from whatever is making the noise.

Misophonia is a brain disorder that is referred to as a “selective sound sensitivity syndrome,” which means that certain noises cause an involuntary reaction. This disorder was only given a name in 2002, so researchers are still learning how it works. For most people, the auditory system, what helps you hear, sends messages to the brain through vibrations that you know as sound. For people with misophonia, the sound vibrations go to the part of the brain that triggers fear and anger as well. Researchers are still trying to find the cause, but this is one possibility for what it may be.

For the people that have misophonia, they may need treatment such as behavioral conditioning, which helps them to control their reactions to the sound. They may also use cognitive behavioral therapy, which teaches them to find distractions or substitute the noise for less annoying ones, or they may be taught how to associate the noise less with bad reactions, and be trained to associate good things with them. Sometimes though, medication, ear plugs, or leaving the room can be the only treatment that helps.

For elementary school teacher Meredith Rosol, some noises are more than just annoying, and they have been that way since she was a kid. The Washington Post said that for her, “Her list of triggers grew longer with every year: chewing (especially foods with crunch), tapping, typing, heavy breathing, silverware clinking, foot shuffling.” Because these are normal sounds in a classroom, it was difficult for her as a teacher. “It’s like a fight-or-flight response:” she said, “Your muscles get tense, you’re on edge, your heart races, and you feel the urge to flee.” She avoids these reactions by using earplugs and headphones to block out noises that make her angry or scared.

Not many people have this, so it is not something to worry about. If your siblings bother you by chewing with their mouths open, it is more likely that your sibling is just annoying.

For a podcast with stories about other senses, click here.

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