Eating is a normal part of life – most of us do it every day, and everyone on the planet needs to do it pretty frequently or they will literally die. It’s a bit odd, then, how many people are really annoyed by the sounds made while others chow down.
Sure, slurping your soup is considered bad manners, but some people don’t just find it to be a bit distasteful, they seem to have an almost visceral reaction to it.
Well, turns out, it’s actually a medical condition.
The idea was first put forward in the year 2000 by husband and wife team Pawel and Margaret Jastreboff, who gave it the term misophonia – made up of ‘miso’, a prefix meaning ‘hatred’, and ‘phonia’, meaning sound.
So it’s literally the hatred of sound.
And that covers more than just eating sounds – it could be the clacking of a keyboard, clicking of a pen or even someone breathing. In a nutshell, it’s when a sound doesn’t just annoy you, it actually triggers your flight-or-fight response.
As with just about any problem, identifying it and giving it a name was the first step on the road towards understanding and dealing with it.
While it is still not technically recognised as a neurological disease, studies of the condition strongly suggest it is an issue more associated with the mind than the ears.
In fact, a study from the University of Newcastle, UK, used brain imaging to find that people who suffer from misophonia show “clear changes in the structure of the brain’s frontal lobe”.
“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,” Dr Sukhbinder Kumar, who led the research, said.
“Patients with misophonia had strikingly similar clinical features and yet the syndrome is not recognised in any of the current clinical diagnostic schemes.
“This study demonstrates the critical brain changes as further evidence to convince a sceptical medical community that this is a genuine disorder.”
While a definitive treatment for the disorder is yet to be determined, the study has helped to push the condition into mainstream understanding, which should lead to more research on solutions.
“I hope this will reassure sufferers. I was part of the sceptical community myself until we saw patients in the clinic and understood how strikingly similar the features are,” Tim Griffiths, Professor of Cognitive Neurology at Newcastle University and UCL, said.
“We now have evidence to establish the basis for the disorder through the differences in brain control mechanism in misophonia. This will suggest therapeutic manipulations and encourage a search for similar mechanisms in other conditions associated with abnormal emotional reactions.”