Do you dread lunchtimes in the office because your colleague's noisy chewing drives you up a wall? We're sorry to say it, but the problem might be with you: In a February 2017 study, Newcastle University scientists found that people who find certain mundane sounds, such as chewing gum or pen clicking, absolutely agonizing appear to have a genuine brain abnormality.
The condition is called misophonia — and sufferers report feeling totally disgusted when exposed to noises that other people can simply tune out. The medical community was previously skeptical that this was a real affliction, but now researchers have found a difference in the frontal lobe of the brains of those who have it. The findings are published in Current Biology.
Misophonia is certainly not fatal, but in extreme cases, it can cause problems in everyday life. Take 29-year-old Olana Tansley-Hancock from England, for example, who started to find family meals unbearable around the age of 8.
"The noise of my family eating forced me to retreat to my own bedroom for meals," she said in a press release for the study. "I can only describe it as a feeling of wanting to punch people in the face when I heard the noise of them eating — and anyone who knows me will say that doesn't sound like me."
She went to her doctor when her condition became unbearable, but his response was to simply mock her. It was only after seeking help online that she found a misophonia website and got involved with research. Now she's a lot better, which she attributes to lifestyle changes: She mediates, has reduced her caffeine and alcohol intake, and carries earplugs wherever she goes so she'll be prepared for trigger sounds.
What Did the Scientists Find?
In their research, the Newcastle University scientists found that there appear to be changes in brain activity for those who have misophonia when a trigger sound is heard. They also found that people with misophonia experienced an increased heart rate and perspiration when they were confronted by the annoying sound.
Th researchers say their findings suggest there's a difference in the "emotional control mechanism" for people with misophonia. Essentially, the brains of people with misophonia go into overdrive upon hearing trigger sounds.
"For many people with misophonia, this will come as welcome news, as for the first time, we have demonstrated a difference in brain structure and function in sufferers," lead study author Sukhbinder Kumar, PhD, said in the press release. "This study demonstrates these critical brain changes as further evidence to convince a skeptical medical community that this is a genuine disorder."
Dr. Kumar believes this research opens up a door to future possibilities for therapy. But in the meantime, if you think you might have misophonia, we might suggest investing in a good pair of headphones and becoming better acquainted with online white noise generators.