If the sound of someone chewing gum or slurping their tea gets on your nerves, there may be a scientific explanation for your irritation, a study has revealed. Researchers from King's College London and the University of Oxford suggest that one in five people in the United Kingdom report that certain sounds cause problems for them. This sensitivity is called misophonia, a disorder in which people feel strong emotional responses to certain sounds, feeling angry, distressed or even unable to function in social or work settings as a result.
"Most people with misophonia think they are alone, but they are not. This is something we need to know [about] and make adjustments if we can," said Dr Sila Vitoratou, first author of the study at King's College London.
For the study, published in the journal Plos One, researchers used questionnaires to find out more about misophonia. After looking at samples from 772 people of different ages and ethnicities in the UK, they found that only 13.6% of people had heard about the condition, and 2.3% identified as having it.
The study revealed that misophonia was equally common in men and women and that it tended to be less severe with age. It found that some of the most triggering sounds for sufferers include normal breathing, footsteps and swallowing.
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"The experience of misophonia is more than just being annoyed by a sound," said senior author of the study, Dr Jane Gregory, a clinical psychologist at the department of experimental psychology, University of Oxford. She said that the disorder can often cause feelings of helplessness and "being trapped when people can't get away from an unpleasant sound".
"Often those with misophonia feel bad about themselves for reacting the way they do, especially when they are responding to sounds made by loved ones," Dr Gregory added.
It remains unknown what causes misophonia. In the study, the researchers noted that most suggested treatments currently focus on mental coping techniques, including relaxation, deep breathing, sound therapy and cognitive behavioural therapy to reduce anxiety. They also stated that more needs to be done to understand the causes of misophonia and how to help those that may be affected by it.