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Misophonia and Sensory Processing Disorder


  • Published: 2013-07-29 (Revised/Updated 2017-04-05) : Author: Thomas C. Weiss : Contact: Disabled World
  • Synopsis: Information regarding Misophonia a rare sound sensitivity disorder characterized by an extreme aversion to certain sounds.

Misophonia is a sound sensitivity disorder that is not well understood and is rare. It is characterized by an extreme aversion to certain sounds. The disorder may occur in both children and adults from any age group. When people with misophonia are exposed to certain sounds they experience feelings of extreme anxiety and rage. The specific sounds they are sensitive to vary with each individual. Chewing is one noise that commonly bothers people with misophonia, while other sounds include tapping, throat clearing, scratching, or sniffling.

Misophonia is defined as "hatred of sound", and is a rarely diagnosed neuropsychiatric disorder in which negative emotions (anger, flight, hatred, disgust) are triggered by specific sounds. Believed to be a neurological disorder characterized by negative experiences triggered by specific sounds. The term was coined by American neuroscientists Pawel Jastreboff and Margaret Jastreboff and is often used interchangeably with the term selective sound sensitivity. Misophonia has not been classified as a discrete disorder in DSM-V-TR or ICD-10.

People who have misophonia are most commonly angered by specific sounds, such as slurping, throat-clearing, people clipping their nails, brushing their teeth, chewing crushed ice, eating, drinking, breathing, sniffing, talking, sneezing, yawning, walking, chewing gum, laughing, snoring, typing on a keyboard, coughing, humming, whistling, singing; saying certain consonants; or repetitive sounds.

The exact cause of Misophonia remains unknown at this time.

There might be neurological or psychological causes or both, and some people with the disorder have also been diagnosed with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), something that makes a psychiatric element to the disorder a possibility. The fact that not every person with sensitivities to sound has OCD; however, finds medical science believing the condition is not entirely psychological. It is common for misophonia and, 'hyperacusis,' which is another rare disorder, to coexist, leading to a theory that the disorder is a neurological one. It is also believed that the brain does not process sound information correctly in people with misophonia. Average sounds are perceived by the person with an increased sensitivity and processed as being danger sounds instead of harmless ones.

Common Misophonia Sound IrritantsAbout This Image: Common Misophonia Sound IrritantsUnfortunately, people with misophonia go without receiving a diagnosis of the disorder. Most doctors remain unaware of the condition and receiving help for the disorder is usually only initiated when a parent or a teacher recognizes the symptoms. A diagnosis is made through evaluation of the person's feelings when they are exposed to sounds.

The best treatment approach involves one performed by a psychiatrist and an audiologist.

The audiologist treats the person with tinnitus retraining therapy, a type of therapy that uses sound generators or broadband signal generators to desensitize the person to the particular sounds that irritate them. An audiologist also works to reprogram the auditory processing center of the person's brain by teaching them to associate the sounds with more pleasant feelings. A psychiatrist treats any underlying psychological conditions such as anxiety or OCD while helping the person to develop methods for coping to use when they become bothered by particular sounds.

The treatments may last anywhere from 6-18 months.

As the person's treatments progress they are encouraged to gradually stop using earplugs if they are using them. Unfortunately, the use of earplugs only serves to make the person more sensitive to the sounds that irritate them. Until treatments are successful, earplugs are many times needed for people with misophonia; something that is also unfortunate. Without the use of earplugs, the person may find their levels of anxiety to be very high.

Children and adults with misophonia may attempt to mask the sounds that irritate them with music, or simply avoid them.

Depending upon the severity, the disorder may have serious consequences for people. It might keep them from building relationships, participating in social activities, or even leaving their own homes.

People with misophonia many times feel misunderstood and alienated because others may believe them to be overly-sensitive or hysterical. It can help to have a diagnosis from a doctor as proof that they are indeed experiencing the disorder. Simply speaking about the disorder can help.

Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD)

 Potential Senses Affected by SPDAbout This Image: Potential Senses Affected by SPDSensory Processing Disorder (SPD) is a form of neurological condition where a person's brain misinterprets information that is taken in by their senses. The disorder is usually experienced by people who also have autism, yet it is also experienced by people without autism. Sensory processing disorder may affect one or more of a person's senses to include:

People with SPD may be either hypersensitive or hypo-sensitive to various types of stimuli.

SPD is treated with occupational therapy, something that uses activities to help a person's neurological system integrate with their senses so they can appropriately process information. As an example, an occupational therapist might have a person who is hypersensitive to the feeling of clothing touching their skin touch a number of different textured objects to customize their brain to processing different types of tactile stimuli. The therapy is carried out in ways that feel comfortable to the person and involve activities that are altered as needed in order to make sure the person has positive experiences and remains within the person's comfort zone.

Link Between Misophonia and Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD)

While misophonia causes only sensitivities to certain sounds, sensory processing disorder may cause a person to experience sensitivities in one or more of their senses. Since it is possible for SPD to only affect a person's sense of hearing for example, the question of whether it is possible for a link between SPD and misophonia arises. Dr. Schoen of SPD Foundation Research states,

"Individuals with sensory processing disorder typically have impairments in more than one sensory system. Clearly the behavioral manifestations of individuals with misophonia appear similar to those with sensory over-responsive in the auditory domain. At the present time, the biological mechanisms and implicated structures for SPD and misophonia are not well documented and the etiologies are unknown. More research is needed to determine the similarities, differences and co-occurrence of the two conditions."

In short, there simply has not been enough research performed at this time to define a link between misophonia and SPD.

The lack of research does not rule out a potential link between these two disorders and future research may provide further understanding. One thing is clear - even if it is assumed that the disorders are completely different from each other, the potential exists that there are people who have been misdiagnosed.

One doctor may diagnose a person with misophonia, for example, only to find the same person going to another doctor who diagnoses the same person with sensory processing disorder. The person may begin treatment for misophonia, only to discover that the treatments have exacerbated their symptoms and cease treatment. The fact that many doctors have little or no experience with either disorder makes receiving an appropriate diagnosis exceptionally difficult. The treatments for misophonia and sensory processing disorder are different and may lead to a worsening of a person's symptoms if they receive an incorrect diagnosis.

Statistics: Misophonia

The prevalence of misophonia is unknown, but groups of people identifying with the condition suggest it is more common than previously recognized:

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