Unique disorder causes people to become oversensitive to repetitive sounds

The click of the mouse, the hum of the printer, fingers on a keyboard -- we hear these noises every day in the office and tune them out.  But when you have misophonia, those sounds can bring on feelings of intense anxiety, panic, and sometimes rage.

Meredith Rosol, of Baltimore, was around the age of six when she first noticed something wasn't quite right. She would have to leave the dinner table almost every night because she couldn't tolerate the sound of her parents chewing their food.

"My mom thought it was a behavior, she thought I was being difficult," said Rosol. "Then she realized something was going on."

Rosol went to see a specialist in Oregon, who diagnosed her with misophonia. By definition, misophonia means "hatred of sound." Certain noises, or "triggers," can set off those who have this disorder. The sounds are usually repetitive in nature, like chewing, gum popping or tapping a pen. They can cause a strong reaction in a person that goes beyond moderate annoyance.

"It's a fight or flight response so you get an anxiety level that goes up, you could start to sweat, your blood pressure goes up," said Dr. Brian Kaplan, chairman of Ear, Nose and Throat services at GBMC. "It's almost the beginnings of an anxiety attack that comes on in response to one of those noises."

Some who live with disorder may only have a few triggers, while others will have a laundry list. Those on the more extreme end of misophonia find it difficult to go out in public, eat at restaurants, shop at malls, or even go to work.

Dr. Kaplan says a lot of time patients will come to him, assuming the issue is with their ears. In almost every case, Dr. Kaplan says their ears check out fine. "It's not how you're picking up the sound it's what your brain is doing as it processes the sound," said Kaplan.

Although doctors have not been able to determine a cause for misophonia, new research suggests it could be linked to psychiatric disorders, such an anxiety, depression, obsessive compulsion disorder, etc. "It can be hard to diagnose, although the patient's history can tell you their final diagnosis once you start delving a little deeper," Kaplan said. "What are the behaviors they're concerned about, what sets them off and what level of emotion do they feel."

Because there is no cause for misophonia, there is also no known cure. Avoidance is usually the best way to take care of the problem. Rosol carries around a set of special headphones when she finds herself in a situation where leaving isn't an option. "I may just pop one in when I'm in public and put my hair down so no one even notices I have it in," she said.

Rosol says she has a good grip on her misophonia but that doesn't mean life has been easy. She found sitting through lectures at college tough and studying at the library was next to impossible. She had some apprehension about moving in with her boyfriend, because she says the people you live with are usually the ones you develop triggers to the quickest. But so far things are going well. "He doesn't do anything that bothers me, and he really understands."

The one thing she still can't do—have dinner with her parents.

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