Sensitive to noise? Misophonia and hyperacusis explained

Apr 16, 2021 in Hearing Care

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Do you have an emotional reaction to everyday sounds, like someone eating with their mouth open, chewing loudly, or tapping a pen on a desk? This could mean you have acute sensitivity to sound – or, in medical terms, misophonia or hyperacusis.

What is misophonia?

The definition of misophonia is hatred of sound. People with the condition find their hearing is particularly sensitive to certain sounds, which can trigger responses ranging from moderate discomfort to panic or distress. Support group Misophonia UK has published an activation scale, which grades the severity of misophonia responses.

To understand what it’s like living with misophonia, we spoke to Louise, a lifelong sufferer of the condition.

“When I hear a trigger sound, I feel an unbearable feeling of rage inside, I get stressed out, my heart beats faster. I have a fight or flight response.”

“It’s a very visceral, powerful response. It can range from sheer hatred of the sound to outright panic. I can get highly emotional, or very angry, depending on the situation.”

“For me, it’s all about repetitive noises, like tapping sounds or irregular buzzes, beeps or pings. Snoring, eating noises, whistling, nose whistling or wheezing sounds, certain types of music, birdsong, even distant muffled TVs or radios – they all drive me crackers. They make me feel panicked.”

How to live with misophonia

Louise has some useful tips for other sufferers. “If I hear a trigger sound, I find that mimicking the sound out loud can help to distract my mind from the feelings of panic and anger. I’d also recommend people speak to other sufferers, through the Misophonia Support Group Facebook page, which has 17,000 members across the world, or Misophonia UK.”

What is hyperacusis?

Hyperacusis is a similar condition, whereby intolerance to particular frequencies of sound can cause severe pain or panic attacks. Hyperacusis is often caused by exposure to excessively loud noise earlier in life.

There are some common trigger sounds for people living with misophonia and hyperacusis. These include:

  • Sounds made with the mouth including chewing, nail-biting and talking while eating
  • Breathing sounds such as snoring, loud breathing and yawning
  • Animal noises like dogs barking, pets licking their fur and claws scratching
  • Sounds made by heavy equipment including lawn mowers and air conditioning units

What causes sensitive hearing?

There is not one known cause of misophonia and hyperacusis, but doctors think they could be related to the way sound enters your brain and triggers responses in your body.

The conditions can be linked to a number of other problems, including:

  • Tinnitus
  • Hearing loss
  • Damage to the ear or brain, for example, from ear surgery, regular exposure to loud noises or a head injury
  • Migraines
  • Bad reaction to medication

How to get help for misophonia and hyperacusis

Sensitivity to sound often has a real impact on everyday life. Although there are no specific medicines or surgical interventions that can treat misophonia and hyperacusis, it is possible to manage them – and treating underlying causes may also help.

Start by going for a hearing test, to determine whether you have hearing loss or another problem with your ears.

If the problem persists you may consider seeking counselling or cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).

Book your free hearing test at Leightons

If noise sensitivity is having a negative effect on your daily life, you should think about booking a free hearing test at Leightons Opticians & Hearing Care. You can book an appointment online, or you can call us on 0800 40 20 20 to arrange a free hearing test at your nearest Leightons branch.

We also offer our Free Online Hearing Test

For immediate, discreet audiogram results from home. Use our quick 5 minute online hearing test to find out about your hearing health. For specific queries on hyperacusis and misophonia, we recommend making an appointment.