Nearly one in five people suffer from misophonia, study says

 (Getty Images/iStockphoto)
(Getty Images/iStockphoto)

The sounds of loud chewing, sniffing, slurping and even breathing is intolerable to nearly one in five people in the UK, a new study has found.

Research from King’s College London and the University of Oxford suggests 18.4 per cent of the general UK population report that certain sounds cause a significant problem in their lives.

The extreme negative reaction to some everyday sounds that are usually made by other people is a condition known as misophonia.

Some people find themselves disgusted by such sounds, while others become angered by them. Feelings of panic due to certain sounds were also reported by those with misophonia.

Aside from chewing, sniffing and breathing, yawning and tapping can also trigger the condition.

People with misophonia often experience a fight-or-flight response to the sounds which can trigger anger and a need to escape, experts say.

Dr Jane Gregory, senior author of the study and clinical psychologist at the University of Oxford’s department of experimental psychology, explained: “The experience of misophonia is more than just being annoyed by a sound.

“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,” she continued.

“More research is needed to understand what causes misophonia and how we can help those people whose symptoms disrupt their day to day lives.”

The research, published in the journal Plos One, is the first in the UK to assess the level of the condition in a general population, scientists said.

The sound of chewing is a common trigger for many people with misophonia (Getty Images/iStockphoto)
The sound of chewing is a common trigger for many people with misophonia (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

They used a questionnaire 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.

It found that only 13.6 per cent of people had heard about the condition, and 2.3 per cent identified as having the condition. The researchers said this suggests many people 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.

As well as capturing the extreme reaction some people have to sounds, the questionnaire also looked at how they feel about themselves because of those reactions.

It also measured the impact of misophonia on people’s lives, such as social isolation, avoiding certain places and concerns about the future.

By comparing results from this study and previous research, scientists estimated the reactions to sounds that are linked specifically to the condition.

For example: loud chewing, slurping, snoring and loud breathing frequently elicited negative emotional responses across the sample. Reactions to normal breathing, footsteps and swallowing were indicative of higher levels of misophonia.

The experts also found that people with the condition experienced anger and panic as a reaction to specific sounds whereas irritation was a more common reaction across the sample.

Lead author, Dr Silia Vitoratou, senior lecturer in psychometrics and measurement at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN), King’s College London, said: “We have shown that everyday sounds made by others negatively impact the lives of nearly one in five people in the UK.

“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 from misophonia.”

Researchers collected data on levels of depression and anxiety in the sample and found low associations with the severity of misophonia, supporting the proposal that it is a standalone condition and not part of other disorders.

The study was funded by the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) Maudsley Biomedical Research Centre and Wellcome.

Additional reporting by PA