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Misophonia: the intimidation of sounds

Ticking clocks, chewing foods and clanging spoons: all of these are typical noises we hear around us in our daily lives — too typical that we often go unnoticed of them. Yet with this hearing disorder, these friendly clamors can turn into a boisterous, sometimes even intimidating cacophony.

Misophonia is a disorder that triggers abnormally emotional and negative reactions to ordinary sounds, according to WebMD. According to Danielle Dresden, a reporter at Medical News Today, misophonia triggers extreme anxiety, rage or panic to repetitive noises, such as chewing, tapping, or breathing sounds. These specific types of noises, called “trigger sounds,” provoke aggressiveness or the desire to flee from the sound source that often makes patients unable to retain one’s social life.

Moreover, James Cartreine, a contributing editor at Harvard Health Publishing cited British-based research that misophonia patients displayed extreme stress toward their trigger sounds in a form of increased sweating or heart rate. Though misophonia has only been classified in 2000, Dresden elaborated, scientists discovered that the types of trigger sounds and the degree of aggression toward them differ by patients.

Then what exactly causes the reaction?

In research executed by a team from Newcastle University, researchers discovered an association between abnormal auditory responses and altered emotional control mechanism of the brain. Using brain imaging and brain scan technologies such as MRI, they further found that there were physical differences in the frontal lobe, where patients diagnosed with misophonia had higher myelination in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, according to the team.

Since the affected regions — frontal lobe areas and anterior insular cortex or AIC — are both generally known to be involved in processing emotions, researchers concluded that misophonia is directly correlated to abnormalities in emotional control regions within the brain corroborated by the examination of physical changes in the brain .

Although a direct treatment for misophonia has not been discovered, scientists have devised several ways to help the patients cope with clamors more effectively; and what’s more impressive: the patients themselves came up with their unique ways of coping the noises.

For instance, Dresden explained in his article that misophonia patients often unconsciously mimic their trigger sounds, presumably to handle the noises they find disturbing. In addition, he suggested that patients could use headphones and earplugs to block the noises or even deliberately expose themselves to their trigger sounds to familiarize themselves with their fear.

These treatments may temporarily ameliorate the patients’ conditions, but more in-depth research is required to present a solution based on a more practical and empirical basis.

Though no definitive solution to the disorder has been presented yet, continuous efforts from researchers and patients of misophonia will undoubtedly present a solution that will ultimately help the patients realize the joy of “listening” one day.

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