What is Misophonia?
Misophonia is a neurological disorder in which auditory, and sometimes visual stimuli, cause an individual to go into the fight/flight response. This reaction occurs in relation to sounds and sights that other people typically would not notice. Common sounds that individuals with Misophonia find disruptive are chewing, keyboard tapping, throat-clearing, coughing, water-dripping from a tap and more. Visual stimuli that individuals find bothersome are often those associated with offending sounds, and sometimes visual stimuli that is related to movement. There seems to be a range in severity of sensitivity to sounds (and sights), with some people finding stimuli highly aversive, and others responding with less physiological and emotional reactivity.
The disorder was originally proposed by Drs. Jastreboff and Jastreboff in 2001, and research is still in its infancy. Historically, there has been a lack of consensus regarding the nature of Misophonia across the research. This served to confuse those interested in learning about the disorder. However, during a July 2018 Symposium much of the confusions was cleared up. This is great news because research will move forward with more efficiency when researchers are working together!
Misophonia is currently viewed as a disorder in which there is over-connectivity between the areas of the brain that process auditory information, and the parts of the brain that process the flight/flight response and also help determine whether a sound is harmful or is not. In 2017, Dr. Sukhbinder Kumar and his associates, found that people with Misophonia have more myelin between these particular brain areas. Myelin is a substance in the brain that helps to accelerate nerve signals traveling from one area of the brain to others. This was groundbreaking research that adds strong evidence that Misophonia is in fact, a brain-based disorder.
Although some early researchers suggested that Misophonia may be strongly related to Obsessive Compulsive Disorders, this is no longer the case. Similarly, researchers have learned that graded exposure therapy (in which individuals are gradually exposed to trigger sounds) is not useful, and can in fact be a very upsetting for those participating in this form of treatment. Misophonia is now understood as a condition that may stand-alone, or may exist alongside numerous other health, psychological and psychiatric disorders. Very early research suggests that there is not a pattern in terms of coexisting disorders. However, it may be that those with more generalized sensitivity to sensory stimuli may be more likely to develop Misophonia.
There are currently few “experts” on Misophonia, and those seeking treatment should be wary of therapists and doctors who claim to “have cured” or “successfully treated” those with Misophonia. However, a coping skills based approach that includes strategies to help one calm down both physiologically and emotionally, as well as knowing how to manage daily life with Misophonia may be very helpful. Drs. in Amsterdam have a devised a treatment that is based on supportive group counseling, attention training, cognitive therapy and physiological training that helps individuals to calm their nervous system in response to typical Misophonia sounds (and visuals). This is similar to the coping skills model proposed by Dr. Jennifer Jo Brout, entitles Regulate, Reason and Reassure (or RRR), and to that of the Misophonia and Emotion Regulation program founded and developed by Dr. Brout and Dr. M. Zachary Rosenthal.
The IMRN works vehemently to engage and support cross-disciplinary researchers who are top-notch in their field and who work within ethical academic and institutional guidelines. As research changes and develops, so will ideas about the disorder. The IMRN does not accept monies for research, and is not a nonprofit. However, if you would like to support an avenue of research, you can donate directly to a particular program that you feel is important. We are not an intermediary for the donations, and they go directly to the particular University or research center.
Both the cause(s) of Misophonia and potential treatments will be redefined as research moves forward. The underlying Mechanisms of Disorders are ever-changing as new scientific studies emerge. The classification of misophonia, while currently unofficial, will be a major step forward. In addition, while research develops, it is important to understand that the impact on the lives of those with the disorder is of great importance. Currently, a cross-disciplinary approach to diagnosis and treatment/coping skills development is most useful. This means that audiologists, neurologists, psychologists, and several professionals are the key to finding answers.
When asking ‘what is misophonia?’ we must realize that it is through working together that we find the greatest answers.