One in five people find loud chewing and breathing intolerable
Sounds like chewing, sniffing and loud breathing are intolerable for one in five people, the first British study of its kind has shown.
Researchers from King’s College London and University of Oxford have shown that 18.4 per cent of the general UK population say certain noises can leave them feeling trapped and upset.
The problem, known as misophonia, is a psychological condition in which common sounds made in normal life trigger a fight or flight response, sparking anger or the need to escape.
It is the first time the prevalence of the condition has been known.
“The experience of misophonia is more than just being annoyed by a sound,” Dr Jane Gregory, a clinical psychologist at the University of Oxford.
“Misophonia can 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.
“More research is needed to understand what causes misophonia and how we can help those people whose symptoms disrupt their day-to-day lives.”
‘Anger and panic’
The study used a new questionnaire developed to capture the severity and complexity of misophonia within a sample of 772 people who were representative of the UK general population across sex, age and ethnicity.
Only 13.6 per cent of people had heard about misophonia and 2.3 per cent identified as having the condition, suggesting that many are not aware there is a term to describe how they react to sounds.
The analysis showed that misophonia was equally common in men and women and that it tended to be less severe with age.
They found that loud chewing, slurping, snoring and loud breathing frequently elicited negative emotional responses across the sample whereas reactions to normal breathing, footsteps and swallowing were indicative of higher levels of misophonia.
Researchers also found that those with misophonia experienced anger and panic as a reaction to specific sounds whereas irritation was a more usual response.
“We have shown that everyday sounds made by others negatively impact the lives of nearly one in five people in the UK,” said Dr Silia Vitoratou, a senior lecturer in psychometrics and measurement at King’s College London.
“Our study also suggests that many people may not recognise they have misophonia.
“We believe the scale we have developed will help us to understand misophonia better and will also help health professionals to support those who suffer.”
The research was published in the journal Plos One.