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Chewing Sounds Can Set Off People Suffering From Misophonia

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The sound of chewing is unpleasant but to some, it can elicit an intense emotional and physical reaction — it drives them crazy.

The technical term for it is misophonia, a disorder characterized by a strong dislike for a certain sound. In this case, it is an ordinary noise produced through the mouth when other people eat.

Other people who have the condition also have adverse reactions toward the sound of typing on a keyboard, fingers tapping, or the squeaky noise of a windshield wiper. Some also report feeling unsettled over repetitive motion or visual stimuli that are accompanied by sound.

Negative Reaction To Sound

Misophonia, also called selective sound sensitivity syndrome, only received its name in 2001. The condition is little studied and many skeptics still believe that it should not be a disorder. However, to those who believe have it, it is very real and it disrupts their lives.

Patients who have misophonia report feeling mild to severe physiologic and emotional reactions, including anxiety, disgust, feeling uncomfortable, having the urge to flee, rage, hatred, panic, fear, and overall emotional distress. Some avoid places or situations they associate to their triggers, putting a damp on their social lives.

Scientists do not fully understand yet why certain sounds elicit such a negative reaction from people with misophonia. Research published in 2017 found changes in the brain activity of those who suffer from the condition whenever they hear their triggers. An abnormality in their emotional control mechanism is causing their brains to go into overdrive, evoking a heightened physiological response accompanied by an increased heart rate and sometimes, sweating.

A separate study published just last year claimed that misophonia can impact a person's ability to learn. After testing 72 college students, researchers found that even people who have no severe adverse reactions to sound find it difficult to perform academically.

"Some people are especially sensitive this to relatively subtle specific background sounds like chewing, and this sensitivity can be distracting enough to impair learning," stated Logan Fiorella, an assistant professor at the University of Georgia and the co-author of the study.

Living With Misophonia

There is currently no treatment for misophonia. However, Marsha Johnson, an audiologist who specializes in the condition, said that some things could help those who suffer from this condition. She suggested simple strategies such as flooding the ears with other sounds, wearing noise-canceling headphones, and mindful breathing to cope with the condition.

She also said that getting up and taking a brisk walk or other forms of exercise can help take the mind off of the trigger.

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