By Holly Brady, Office Manager.
Maybe you’ve heard about Kelly Ripa from Live! with Kelly and Michael and her aversion to soft sounds. Ms. Ripa reports having always been troubled by chewing sounds and diagnosed herself as having misophonia (or Soft Sound Sensitivity Syndrome). She announced on her show in 2011 that she has carefully taught her children to eat quietly (with mouths closed) and she must leave the house if her husband chooses to eat a ‘juicy peach’. That doesn’t sound too unreasonable. Or, does it?
The term misophonia means hatred of sound and was coined by Drs. Margaret and Pawel Jastreboff. The condition can make every day sounds, which go unnoticed by most people, unbearable. The trigger sounds are typically soft noises related to the body that cause the sufferer to react. Most of us have certain sounds that annoy us such as a neighbor’s dog barking, finger nails on a chalk board or a music genre that isn’t our favorite. However what distinguishes misophonia from mild annoyance is the reaction to the trigger sound. The response is immediate and intense like a reflex. The list of sounds which can elicit the response is long and varied and includes, but is not limited to: mouth sounds (chewing, crunching, popping, spitting), breathing sounds (snoring, hiccups, nasal whistling), vocalizing (‘oohs’, ‘aahs’, singing, whistling, laughing), and even environmental sounds (clicking keyboards, papers rustling, ticking clocks, fingers tapping). When the misophonia sufferer hears a trigger sound the typical response is anger, crying, acting out, mimicry, and/or fleeing the situation. The person who has misophonia is reacting to these soft sounds as if they were dangerous and scary. The reaction to the sound is similar to that of a burglar breaking into our home or a wild animal was chasing us in the woods.
Misophonia typically presents in patients around the age of 10-12 and begins with the people closest to them such as family members. It is perplexing not only because it seems to develop suddenly with very violent outbursts but because the sounds that are triggers are not typically noticed by others. The misophonia sufferer is often labeled as over sensitive while family members try to desensitize the person by exposing them to the trigger sounds. Not only is this approach not helpful, it can exacerbate the problem by strengthening the reaction. When medical professionals are consulted, the misophonic is often advised to wear earplugs during meal times. Unfortunately, while earplugs may be helpful at first, over time they make the auditory system even more sensitive to sound again exacerbating the issues.
But there are strategies the patient can take on their own such as taking a deep breath, explaining to others about the sounds that trigger them, leaving the room/situation and contact a professional who specializes in the treatment and management of sound sensitivity issues. The good news is there is help right here in Lexington. At Kentucky Audiology and Tinnitus Services, Dr. Ann Rhoten uses Tinnitus Retraining Therapy (TRT) to help sufferers manage misophonia. TRT has two components: counseling/education and sound therapy. The counseling/education component teaches the misophonia sufferer and the family about the auditory system and the other brain structures responsible for the strong reaction to the trigger sounds. This demystifies the reaction and actually normalizes it. In addition to education, TRT advocates the use of sound therapy. Sound therapy has several goals and benefits. The first and foremost is to reduce both the perception and reaction to the trigger sounds. The most effective type of noise to use for sound therapy is soft steady-state noises such as the wind, rain, and motor noises delivered by either an I-pod or ear-level device which looks like a small hearing aid. Although, using sound therapy does not cure the condition, it does allow the sufferer to participate in activities that were previously avoided.
Dr. Rhoten is an audiologist with Kentucky Audiology & Tinnitus Services, PLLC, 1517 Nicholasville Road, Suite 202, Lexington, KY 40503 – CALL (859) 554-5384, or visit her online at www.kytinnitustreatment.com