Can't stand the sound of loud chewing? You may have misophonia

Can't stand the sound of loud chewing? You may have misophonia
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If the sound of loud chewing drives you crazy, you may be suffering from a sound-processing disorder called misophonia.

When those with the condition hear 'trigger sounds' such as eating, drinking, breathing, or repeated pen clicking, they can become angry and anxious.

These noises send some parts of their brains into overdrive and set off a fight-or-flight response, researchers from Britain's Newcastle University wrote in the science journal Current Biology last Thursday (Feb 2).

In a study, they monitored the brain activity of participants who listened to sounds that were neutral (rain, busy cafe, boiling kettle), unpleasant (crying baby, screaming woman), and triggering (breathing, eating).

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Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans of those with misophonia revealed abnormal connections between the brain's frontal lobe and anterior insular cortex.

These parts of the brain govern cognitive functions and control voluntary movement, and process emotions and signals from the body and the outside world respectively.

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The aversion to 'trigger sounds' may be connected to bad experiences in the past, lead study researcher Dr Sukhbinder Kumar told The New York Times in an interview.

Misophonia, a term coined by scientists Pawel and Margaret Jastreboff in 2001, has been met with scepticism from the medical community until this study showed a link between 'trigger sounds' and brain changes.

However, why certain sounds lead to such strong reactions remains a mystery.

For 29-year-old Olana Tansley-Hancock, hearing her family eating forced her to retreat into her bedroom during mealtimes as the noise made her want to punch people.

She said that her general practitioner laughed at her when she talked about her condition, and seeing a counsellor made her even more sensitive to noises.

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Since then, she has learnt to manage her condition by reducing her intake of stimulants (caffeine and alcohol) and takes earplugs with her to shut out the noises when they get too overwhelming.

With the recent findings, Dr Kumar said that he hopes to identify the brain signatures of 'trigger sounds' so they can be used in future treatments such as neuro-feedback.

minlee@sph.com.sg

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