Does the sound of people chewing food drive you absolutely crazy? You may be suffering from misophonia, a brain abnormality that makes you extremely sensitive to everyday sounds, like chewing and loud breathing.
Misophonia was first named as an ailment in 2001, but for years scientists have speculated about whether or not it was a real medical condition. Now, new research from Newcastle University in the UK has proven that it is, in fact, a brain condition. People with misophonia, the researchers found, have a difference in their brain’s frontal lobe compared to people who do not suffer from it.
“The noise of my family eating forced me to retreat to my own bedroom for meals,” Olana Tansley Hancock, a misophonia sufferer who was part of the study, said. “I can only describe it as a feeling of wanting to punch people in the face when I heard the noise of them eating.”
The study, published in journal Current Biology, analyzed scans of people with misophonia and found changes in brain activity when a “trigger” sounds was audible.
Further brain imaging discovered that misophonia sufferers have an abnormality in their emotional control mechanism, which throws their brains into overdrive when they hear triggering sounds. The physiological response increased heart rate and sweating. In other words, a sound as innocuous as a clicking pen, or someone munching on chips, triggers a “fight-or-flight” response for people with misophonia.
“I hope this will reassure sufferers,” Tim Griffiths, professor of Cognitive Neurology at Newcastle University and UCL, said in a statement. “I was part of the skeptical community myself until we saw patients in the clinic and understood how strikingly similar the features are.”
For Olana, this research has come as a huge relief. Since her diagnosis and the study, Olana has taken conscious steps to help manage her condition.
“Now, I’m a lot better probably through a combination of better bodily awareness and changes I’ve made to my lifestyle,” Olana said. “I meditate and have reduced my caffeine and alcohol intake and I am always prepared – I take earplugs on a journey so I can watch a film and ask for headphones at the cinema to block out the sound of people rustling and eating.”
Danielle Tarasiuk is a multimedia journalist based in Los Angeles. Her work has been published on AllDay.com, Yahoo! Sports, KCET, and NPR-affiliate stations KPCC and KCRW. She’s a proud Sarah Lawrence College and USC Annenberg alumn.